Bear with me while we establish the background, which is that 88-year-old Harper Lee will publish her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, this July, and there’s evidence to indicate she may have been forced into publishing by a shady lawyer. That second link is a good primer, but here are the worrisome basics of the situation:
*Alice Lee, Harper’s older sister and the lawyer who handled most of her financial affairs and shielded her from the media after she published To Kill a Mockingbird, died last November at age 103.
*Tonja Carter, works at Alice Lee’s old law firm, has handled Harper’s recent affairs, and was the one who “discovered” the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, leading to the announcement of the book’s publication. According to Carter’s statement, Lee was “surprised and delighted.”
*Carter has a history of releasing statements with quotes from Harper Lee, which isn’t abnormal considering her position. The problem, as noted by Alice before she died, is that Harper suffered a stroke in 2007, may be in a state of dementia, and “will sign anything put before her.” Under Carter’s guidance—the lawyer gained power of attorney over her client in 2012, after Alice Lee had suffered a bout of pneumonia and checked in to a nursing home—Harper disavowed a biography that had previously been authorized, at least according to the author, sued a local museum for carrying Mockingbird knick-knacks, and, with Carter’s encouragement, signed her copyright over to an agent named Samuel Pinkus—re-affirming that decision in 2011—before later suing the same man.
*All of which made the announcement of the book, and Lee’s enthusiastic statement, super suspicious: At this point, it’s impossible to trust anything that supposedly comes from “Lee,” but actually bears the imprint of Tonja Carter.
Which brings us to today’s news. How did the Lee camp attempt to assuage our fears that the elderly author had been manipulated by an unscrupulous lawyer?
By releasing another statement from Lee’s assisted-living facility declaring her happiness. Through the same lawyer.
You see the problem. For whatever it’s worth, this is what “Harper Lee” had to say:
“I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to ‘Watchman.’”
Make of that what you will.
As you work through your cynicism, check out the New York Times article, which is full of anecdotes from town residents who seem shocked by the new book’s publication, since Lee had previously insisted that she never wanted anything new released before her death. You can also read Vanity Fair’s excellent feature on Carter’s previous legal involvement with Harper Lee, another from Vulture that details how Carter initiated a lawsuit against an Alabama museum, and a Wall Street Journal piece on Carter herself.
There will be more to come as suspicions in the literary world continue to mount, though Tonja Carter’s power of attorney over Lee, and the full backing of HarperCollins, make it seem very unlikely that anything can derail the book’s July 14 publication.