There were 3 distinct sections of this book: the strange murders swirling around Reverend Miller, who seemed to take out life insurance policies on everyone in his family and they ended up dead; the subsequent trial of the man who murdered Reverend Miller at the funeral home mourning his latest victim; Harper Lee’s involvement as a last gasp effort to produce a book in the 1970s and 80s. The first and last sections were the most interesting, with delving into Lee’s life providing the most meat for the story. Lee grew up next door to Truman Capote who whisked away to NYC where she eventually migrated. She had put the finishing touches on Mockingbird (after being granted a year off to write by the largess of friends) and was wondering what to do when Capote asked for her help researching the killings that became In Cold Blood. Her help in Kansas was enormous, detailed notes that later propped up his book, plus people much more likely to speak to a pleasant polite Southern woman than flamboyant Capote who met some people at his hotel door wearing pink lingerie.
Then Mockingbird came out and was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, making Capote jealous, making Lee fearful of earning any extra money since her income bracket was already being taxed at 70%. This immediate success made it possible for her never to work again and some say that it cursed her from future writing projects. The author of this book does float the idea that it was possible that Lee “had decided to write for her own satisfaction or for posterity, not her peers, and the feelings of incompletion and failure were incongruous with her own experience.” I say, why not? If she got pleasure out of writing for herself (and her many letters seem to be delightful), then why not leave it at that?
Overall the book was strangely sewn together, stitches large and unwieldy. The editors of which Cep writes so lovingly as having positively influenced Lee’s writing were sorely lacking here. But alas, this is the current state of publishing.
Side note to myself that Melville is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, a place Lee made a pilgrimage to.