Rejection and Acceptance: Go Set a Watchman

For this old kid on the block, distraction-free writing mode with WordPress is a godsend. That said, let us begin.

Library of Congress 1

I’m recalling 1998, if memory serves (and often it does not), when Young JJ became a close friend and confidant. Indeed JJ was very young — a teenager about to drop out of high school, same age as my youngest daughter who is now 34. So, math problem #1 could be rewritten in symbolic logic because it is all about symbolism and youth these days. If you’re not under 40, you’re not. (That’s a Southern joke “if you’re not from here, you’re not here” rewritten to fit the times)

Youth. I’m referring of course to the current kerfuffle concerning our most esteemed American writer, Harper Lee. No longer able to heft her cast-iron skillet and fry her own chicken, stir an over-size pot of collards or chop her own vegetables, Miss Lee is deemed mentally incompetent by all those who have never spoken with her or even laid eyes upon her true physical self. Why! Goodness! She is over 70 and therefore incapable of concrete thought or any decision making on her own. She must suffer from dementia, be addle brained at the very least. Gosh, how devastating!

Seems we let octogenarians RUN THIS COUNTRY, walk the hallowed halls of Congress and yet, let an 80-something, partially deaf, well-cared for Southern woman, grieving over the death of her most-beloved sister, try to make a decision whether or not to publish a manuscript that was rejected 50 (?) years ago is beyond the pale.

What should have been a triumphant literary discovery — a find that could significantly add to the legacy of one of the country’s most cherished authors — quickly morphed into a puzzling controversy. While there have often been debates about works that were discovered and published posthumously, including unfinished novels by masters like Vladimir Nabokov and David Foster Wallace, it is rare for a living writer’s literary intentions to be cloaked in so much uncertainty.

NYTimes, 2/9/2015

Give me, a 60-year-old Southern woman, a freaking break. I’m going a bit deaf in my right ear due to the meds I’ve taken for this crippling arthritis. The arthritis also makes me walk a bit wonky sometimes, when my right hip is acting up in damp cold weather. My torn rotator cuff, waiting for surgical repair, keeps my left arm from being able to heft my favorite 8″ cast-iron skillet from the drawer (meaning that nowadays I just leave it on the stovetop since it’s used daily anyway). I wear two different pairs of glasses, and if you’re over 50, you know why. I have a metal metatarsal joint, big toe, right foot. You can’t see the 11″ scar running down my spine from lumbar fusion 25 years ago, but you can see the newest scars from my basal thumb joint repair surgery last year.

I could go on, but I’m hoping you’re starting to get the point… if not, let me set it out for you. As we age, we begin to fall apart physically. Some folks fall apart mentally. My momma chose to think in the past most days, after she turned 90. The present didn’t interest her much. She was happy to watch a black man become President, enjoyed watching Hillary Clinton (remembering well when Ms. Rodham was first lady of Arkansas when we all lived in Hot Springs), but aside from that, the past held her fondest bits of memory and promise.

But if you’d put my 90-plus year old momma up against Diane Feinstein, Chuck Grassley, Orin Hatch, Richard Shelby, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts, John McCain, Barbara Mikulski, Thad Cochran, Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy, Lamar Alexander (need I go on?) in a one-on-one mental acuity competition — Ruth Florence Chapman Heinold would have won, hands down.

I suspect the same is true for Harper Lee.

Deafness does not mean dementia. Nor does the inability to run the 440. As a writer, I suspect Miss Lee is pretty thrilled to have her book published. We writers are like that. I’m pre-ordering copies of Go Set a Watchman. I pray Harper-Collins will fast track the copy editing and revisions.

Read about Harper Lee in the New York Times archives. It’s worth your time. It’s a LongRead and you need it.