The most depressing story in publishing continues apace: Harper Lee’s lawyer Tonja Carter has written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, ostensibly to dispute a New York Times report implying that Carter discovered the Go Set a Watchman manuscript in 2011—not in 2014, as she had previously claimed. But the entire GSAW publicity rollout has centered on shady banalities, and naturally, Carter’s op-ed follows suit: its real purpose seems to be to plant the seed that there might be a third fucking book.

From the last paragraph:

What of the other pages that have for decades sat in the Lord & Taylor box on top of “Watchman”? Was it an earlier draft of “Watchman,” or of “Mockingbird,” or even, as early correspondence indicates it might be, a third book bridging the two?

“A third book bridging the two” is a nice way of putting “another failed working draft akin to Go Set a Watchman.” There is not a soul in America who needs to, after reading the saga of 26-year-old Jean Louise Finch and her now-openly-racist father Atticus, go back and read what I assume to be a plainspoken story about 16-year-old Scoutie Louisa vaping behind the 7/11 while her father transitions from reddit.com/SJW to reddit.com/confederateflags.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself, sort of. Back to Carter’s stated purpose, which is to shadily dispute this shady dispute from the Times story, detailing a 2011 trip to Monroeville, on which Carter, Lee’s literary agent Samuel Pinkus, and Sotheby’s book expert Justin Caldwell, had gone into the reclusive author’s safe-deposit box and found some mysterious goods:

Ms. Carter acknowledged in a statement last week that she had accompanied Mr. Pinkus and Mr. Caldwell to the bank at the request of Alice Lee, the author’s sister. But she said that she was sent from the room to run an errand before any review of the materials occurred. She denied ever learning that a different manuscript had been found that day and would not elaborate on whether she had later asked what had happened.

“If Sam discovered the ‘Go Set a Watchman’ manuscript at that time, he told neither me nor Miss Alice nor Nelle,” Ms. Carter said in the statement, using the name that family and friends call Ms. Lee.

Both Mr. Pinkus and Sotheby’s, however, say Ms. Carter was there during Mr. Caldwell’s 2011 review.

“Ms. Carter was present in the safe-deposit room and, along with Mr. Caldwell and I, read manuscript pages,” Mr. Pinkus said.

Mr. Pinkus was later fired by Ms. Carter and sued in 2013 by Harper Lee, who accused him of duping her into transferring the copyright for “Mockingbird” to him. That lawsuit was settled out of court.

Carter doubles down on this story in the Wall Street Journal, saying that she only read a couple pages in the room with the two men, and although they were obviously different from Mockingbird proper, she simply went out to get a To Kill a Mockingbird copy for helpful comparison and then left Pinkus and Caldwell alone with the manuscript for an hour, presumably never to ask them any meaningful questions about it again. And, although she admits to remembering a new character named Hank in the manuscript pages—there’s no such guy in Mockingbird—Carter states, “I assumed that the Hank character appeared in one of those short stories that came and went with an early draft.”

The next day I received an email from Mr. Caldwell, the Sotheby’s appraiser, saying “it was so nice to meet you yesterday and to get to see that manuscript.” He made no mention of the existence of a second, unknown book. And the following day, Sam Pinkus wrote to me that “Nelle is under no obligation to Sotheby’s whatsoever, including no obligation for Nelle to sell or auction the items.” Again, no mention of a second book.

Then, writes Carter, she was back in Monroeville in 2014 when some of Lee’s friends and family started talking about the “second novel.” Suddenly, her brain’s all, “Oh yeah... that safe-deposit box they looked at for an hour and then never told me about and I totally didn’t ask them! Oh yeah, those pages I read that mentioned... a character named Hank!”

I decided then to take a closer look at those pages. I went to the safe-deposit box and pulled out the Lord & Taylor box. I began to thumb through its contents when I came across a title page that said: “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee, York Avenue, New York, New York. I read enough of the first page to know this was not “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It opens with Scout, all grown up, returning to Alabama by train from her home in New York City. I thought the “Watchman” manuscript could have been the sequel to “Mockingbird.” And something else was in the Lord & Taylor box. The manuscript for “Watchman” was underneath a stack of a significant number of pages of another typed text.

Jesus Christ, this is shady. Carter had already seen this Lord & Taylor box in 2011, and for long enough to become aware that it held a significantly different manuscript, one that featured a character named Hank. She’s asking us to believe that she forgot all about whatever differences Pinkus and Caldwell made her go out and get a Mockingbird copy about, and then pored over for an hour—or, if she didn’t forget, that she thought they weren’t important. And then, in 2014, Carter suddenly figured out what she somehow missed in 2011 and what Pinkus and Caldwell conveniently didn’t mention, which is that there was a new title page for a new manuscript and a whole new book (or a discarded draft sufficiently different as to be published as one).

Oh, and there’s a “significant number of pages of another typed text.”

Carter is either implying that Pinkus and Caldwell lied to her, or that the two of them are implausibly dim about what constitutes a manuscript, or that she is herself—or, my guess: that some dumb, banal, clandestine machinations took place between the three of them from 2011 to 2014 and Carter can’t talk about it. Regardless, I look forward to reading Now Vape a Minion, the bestseller from Harper Collins to be published in June of next year.


Contact the author at jia@jezebel.com.

Image via AP