Why I won’t read the “new” Harper Lee novel

If the story is to be believed, the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was discovered in a safe deposit box in Harper Lee’s name, where she just happened to forget that she squirreled away her first novel. I find this scenario hard to swallow, and that, plus my particular love of a liberal, justice-oriented Atticus Finch are keeping me from joining the ranks of readers clamoring for the new novel.

As a writer myself, I confess that there are works I have put aside for the possibility of a revisiting later. These are sitting on a bookshelf. And then I have works that I lock away with zero intention of publishing them. I hold onto those pieces that fit into this latter category, because I feel a sentimentality towards those pieces. I’d be horrified if one day someone dug them out for publication.

It’s my thinking that the Watchman manuscript - which is an unedited draft, by the way - fell into the latter category for Harper Lee. It was locked away on purpose.

Writers never forget about the first manuscript they wrote, no matter whether it was loved or hated. Suggesting a writer could forget such a thing is like suggesting a person could forget about their first love or their first car.

It’s unclear what was in Harper Lee’s mind when the manuscript was placed in that safe deposit box - lock it away forever? revise it for publication later? - however, I think it’s possible that some parties have ulterior motives for bringing this manuscript to light now. After all, Ms. Lee is 89, nearly deaf and blind, and she didn’t even re-read the manuscript before it was handed off to the publishers. Thanks in part to the controversies surrounding the release of Watchman, it stands to make not only her, but her literary agent and her eventual estate a lot of money.

We may never know for sure whether, if asked years ago, when she was in better health, Harper Lee would still have consented to publishing Go Set a Watchman as it is now. The sketchiness that revolves around its discovery and release now is why I can’t justify ever buying or reading a copy of the novel. I know I would be horrified if an unedited, early novel that I locked away was unearthed and then published after I’m either dead or in a questionable state of health. In support of the Harper Lee who locked that manuscript in a bank vault so long ago, and in support of all authors who lock their works away from the world, I’ll take a pass on Go Set a Watchman.

- A.M.

For further reading about the controversies surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman: