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Suspicions of Elder Abuse Linger After Mockingbird Sequel Release

Harper Lee Book Release.jpg

A satirical take on the release of Go Set a Watchman. Book image: The Onion

This week saw the much-anticipated release of 89-year-old Harper Lee's "sequel" to the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. As a work recovered out of storage and rushed to publication, Go Set a Watchman is likely to break plenty of sales records and haul in millions in cash. While it's been 55 years since Lee came out with To Kill a Mockingbird and many Americans are understandably excited to read the new book, many journalists are troubled by a lingering suspicion: did elder abuse play a role in the publication?

To get a sense of just how palpable the misgivings over Go Set a Watchman are, look no further than satirical social barometer The Onion, which ran the headline, "Harper Lee Announces Third Novel, 'My Excellent Caretaker Deserves My Entire Fortune.'" Here's what we know: there was indeed an inquiry conducted earlier this year by the State of Alabama in Lee's hometown of Monroeville regarding charges of possible elder abuse. Lee is deaf and nearly blind, raising questions of undue influence. Authorities announced that no evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered, yet doubts continue to trouble observers of the entire matter.

Further, there are a number of circumstances surrounding the release of Lee's Go Set a Watchman that are undeniably strange, contradictory or outright suspicious. For years Lee, represented legally by her attorney sister Alice, stayed resolutely out of the public spotlight and refused to consider publishing any more of her work. Alice, however, died last year, and her associate Tonja Carter took charge of the author's affairs. Suddenly Carter reported that she found a manuscript of the long-lost work Go Set a Watchman, and that Lee enthusiastically approved its publication.

There are additional details that give context to the current situation - Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Nextdoor, was bewildered by the mixed signals she received from Lee about going forward with her book on the two sisters. As it turned out, Tonja Carter had issued stern condemnations of the project under Lee's signature, which she would procure with few questions asked. The octeganarian writer had previously unwittingly transferred trademark rights to her agent, rights only won back through litigation and settlement. So far the State of Alabama has denied any grounds for a deeper investigation into elder abuse, but with millions swirling around a near-incapacitated Harper Lee, some hard questions are in order.

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