Then I began reading. I don’t mean to be critical, only observant. Although the book begins with a lyric description of Alabama landscape, the narrative quickly wanders off to seemingly disconnected anecdotes about train travel, delinquent cousins, Civil War battles, and more. Although familiar characters soon appear: Jean Louise Finch, as the grown-up Scout, and her beloved father, Atticus, they are inconsistent with their portrayal in Mockingbird. I kept searching for a clear voice, a compelling through line, until I was ready to abandon the book altogether.
That’s when I mentioned it to a friend in my writer’s group asking, “Is Harper Lee still alive?” Together we looked her up on the internet and found indeed she is 89, but the provenance of her new manuscript is complicated. Perhaps it is not a new novel at all, but an old first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.
I am in no way disappointed to have purchased what NPR’s Maureen Corrigan called “kind of a mess.” If this is the dry bones of a masterpiece, I’m eager to finish it. What an opportunity for a writer, to study the stuttering first blurt, against the finished work. What a lesson in craft, to see the decisions made about voice, narration, tense, characterization, plot, etc. What an encouragement to know that even gifted authors begin with sloppy versions of the stories they’re compelled to share. How reassuring to know that an astute editor can see the gold amidst the dross.
At deep discount I bought a treasure.