(Update 2-19-16: Harper Lee, author of my favorite novel, died today.)
(Update 7-12-15: Click here to read the post I wrote after I read the pre-release first chapter of the novel along with reviews. Big disappointment.)
February 8, 2015: I have such strong feelings against the upcoming release of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, that I decided to visit Miss Lee and let her know how I felt about this travesty. Of course, she set me straight.
The driver came to a stop in front of the facility. The lawn was mowed short with patches of dirt showing through. The house was ranch style, and painted yellow with blue-trimmed shutters and door posts. A porch with white pickets jutted out from the main entrance. Low shrubs surrounded the front, and tall trees framed the property from behind. None of it was what I expected from the home of a world-famous author.
A concrete bench stood to the left side of the house, and it was there that I saw Miss Nelle Harper Lee. She was in a wheelchair. A woman who I assumed to be her nurse was sitting on the bench reading a magazine.
I opened the car door and approached her. We shared a handshake, and in a moment of author idolatry, I imagined that hand holding a pen and writing down the words of her masterpiece.
And I could not resist: “Hey, Miss Lee,” I said.
She looked at me like she was searching out a mystery. And then a smile came slowly. And then she laughed, a hearty one.
“Buzz, take us in,” she said, with a wave of her hand. The nurse took the chair and rolled Miss Lee toward the front porch as I followed.
Miss Lee’s apartment was small and sweetly furnished, with a flat screen TV monitor and a shelf of books in the living room. I wanted to see if she had a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I didn’t dare look.
The nurse led me to the sofa and parked Miss Lee to my left. I turned on my recorder, set it down on the table, and began the interview.
First of all, Miss Lee, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I am honored to be sitting here with the woman who wrote one of the most important and most beloved books ever written. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite novel.
That’s kind of you to say, but can we get past that one? I have a new novel coming out. Maybe you’ve heard. (Laughs)
Of course. You rocked the world with that announcement.
Well, then, let’s get on with it. Ask me what it was like in 1950s Alabama. So much to tell!
Actually, Miss Lee, I didn’t come here to get a scoop on the new story.
Well, what in Sam Hill did you come here for, Missy?
I came here to plead, beg — insist! that you not release the new book.
(She lets out a long sigh and reaches for a button on her wheelchair. A buzzer sounds). Buzz? Buzz! Come and get this woman out of here. (She looks at me suspiciously.) Who are you?
Darla. Darla McDavid. You agreed to an interview with me. Please don’t be angry, Miss Lee.
Well, I am angry because I’m tired of hearing it. (She points to a desk where a closed laptop has four books stacked on its lid.) Miss McDavid, do you know how many emails I have from people like you — fans of mine who are having fool heart attacks about me sharing this old piece of writing — while the world is going to hell in a hand basket?
No, I do not.
Last time I looked it was 67,513. Sixty-seven thousand. And they’re saying I’m crazy? Humph. (Her eyes are like slits as she stares at me.)
(The nurse walks in.) Buzz, how did you let this one get through? Blast it! They’re out there calling me senile while folk like her are coming here and talking like fools. (The nurse fills a glass of water and hands it to her. Looking at me, the nurse points to the door. I ignore her.)
Miss Lee, I apologize for upsetting you, but I’m upset, too. Releasing this new novel will ruin Mockingbird for me. I don’t want to know a grown-up Scout. I want her to stay that observant and politically incorrect little tomboy who adores her father.
You are being ridiculous. Perhaps you need to get a life. Are you a writer?
Why, yes. I am a writer.
Well, go write your own book, get it published, and then come back and talk to me!
I understand what you’re trying to say, Miss Lee. But how could I ever read Mockingbird again after reading … what’s the name of it — “Go Set a Watchman”? I don’t even like the title. It doesn’t make sense. Plus, it has four words and that “a” — just like with “To Kill a Mockingbird”! I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong.
(Another sigh. She looks at the nurse who is tapping her foot and pointing at her watch.) Hold on, Buzz. Okay, Miss McDavid. At least you’re being honest, if not a bit insane. Here, have some chocolate. (She pushes a plate of treats towards me.)
Thank you. I love chocolate.
Now. The title is from a Bible verse. You should be happy with that, right? Yes, I researched you, too. Ha!
You visited my blog? That is awesome!
Yes. And so, you’re worried that reading my new work is going to destroy the goodness of my old work and all that stuff you have stuck in your head about it. Is that correct?
Exactly. And not just for me. It will be that way for zillions of people who love Mockingbird. Zillions!
Aren’t you being a bit childish, Miss McDavid?
You’re telling me that by reading my new story, your whole experience and love for my first story will be spoiled. That is childish. In fact, I’m insulted by this whole premise.
Insulted? Oh, dear. I sure didn’t want to do that.
Yes. Insulted. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you fall in love. You get married. You remain in that state of holy matrimony for 55 years. Then your husband dies. A few years later you meet a man. You fall in love. You get married. Do you love your first husband any less?
No! Do you treat his death like it’s a death for you, too? No. That would be an insult to the love that the two of you shared.
Let me finish. Worst of all, it would be an insult to him as you sit around whining and sniveling about something new and wonderful about to come into your life.
I don’t know. That illustration might be taking things a bit too far, Miss Lee.
Nonsense! It’s exactly the same. If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird so much, how could another story ruin that love? Well? Speak up, young lady!
I guess you’re right. But …
No buts! You just go on home and think about that. Give me a call after you come to your senses and we can talk about the new book. Buzz, call the car for Miss McDavid. We’re all finished. Charmed to meet you, dear.
(She extends her hand and I clasp it with both of mine.) Thank you, Miss Lee. And I will think about it.
HarperCollins is set to release Go Set a Watchman on July 14. Due to pre-orders, the novel is the number one bestselling book on Amazon. Some say Harper Lee was duped into signing the publishing contract. Others say she is fully aware of what she did. Whatever the case, the novel will be published this summer and, with this imaginary interview, I think I talked myself into reading the novel!
What are your thoughts on the release of her new novel?