Will investigation of elder abuse cast shadow over Harper Lee book?

'To Kill a Mockingbird' author interviewed by state after elder abuse claim

Harper Lee shocked the literary world last month with the announcement that her second novel, "Go Set a Watchman," will be released by HarperCollins in July. But a new report citing a claim of elder abuse against the legendary author threatens to cast a shadow over the book's publication.

The state of Alabama investigated a claim that Lee might be the victim of elder abuse, after "at least one" complaint  that the novelist might have been too sick to fully agree to the publication of her forthcoming book, the New York Times reported.

The investigation dates to February, when state investigators talked to Lee and several of her friends as well as workers at the Monroeville, Ala., assisted-living facility where the author, 88, now resides. 

The Times reported that an anonymous source familiar with the investigation said that "Ms. Lee appeared capable of understanding questions and provided cogent answers to investigators." One of Lee's friends, Wayne Flynt, told the newspaper that he believes Lee "was capable of assenting to the publication of 'Watchman.'"

But Flynt also reported that Lee sometimes has memory lapses: "When [Flynt] asked her about her new novel, he said she seemed to be 'in her own world' at first, and asked, 'What novel?' Reminding her of 'Watchman,' he told her 'You must be so proud,' and she responded with 'I’m not so sure anymore,' Mr. Flynt recalled."

Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg told the Associated Press on Thursday that it has now closed the file, after Lee "answered questions to an investigator's satisfaction."

HarperCollins president and publisher Michael Morrison says he met with Lee earlier this year and has no doubts about the author's mental state. "She was in great spirits, and we talked about how much we love ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and the details of the publication," Morrison told the New York Times. "It was a great meeting, and as expected, she was humorous, intelligent and gracious."

It remains to be seen what effect the report might have on the future of "Go Set a Watchman," which would be Lee's first book in 55 years.  Last month, news of the book's impending publication sent it to the No. 1 spot on Amazon.com's bestseller list. (It currently sits at No. 17.)

Some fans and critics fear that the new novel might not live up to "To Kill a Mockingbird," one of the most famous novels in American history. Last month, David L. Ulin expressed his ambivalence about the publication of "Go Set a Watchman."

"What does it do for her reputation as a writer if, as is likely the case, 'Go Set a Watchman' turns out to be a lesser work?" Ulin asked. "This is a novel, after all, that was rejected and then ignored for 60 years. How then do we assess it, judge it, read it, both as an aesthetic experience and in terms of Lee's career?"

Rumors that Lee may have been exploited by her attorney and publisher have been circulating ever since the announcement of the new book, which was rejected by publishers when it was originally submitted decades ago.



Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times


1:26 p.m.: This post was updated with information on the closure of the inquiry.

This post was originally published at 9:18 a.m.

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