At the end of the profile that Harper Lee wrote of Truman Capote when he published In Cold Blood, she speculated that “Kansans will spend the rest of their days at the tantalizing game of discovering Truman.” It was an odd claim; Capote loved publicity so much that even before he died, there was little left to discover about his time in Kansas, or anywhere else. Lee, by contrast, was so elusive that even her mysteries have mysteries: not only what she wrote, but how; not only when she stopped, but why.
For seventeen years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, readers wondered what Lee would write next. In the years during and after she knocked on doors around Lake Martin, some knew exactly what but wondered when. Many people knew the title. One woman claimed to have seen a book jacket. Big Tom had heard from Lee more than once that the book was on its way to the publisher or that the galleys were already back from the printer. A friend of his remembered Lee saying, one night at dinner, that she had written most of it but was having trouble figuring out an ending. A friend of Lee’s in New York had a letter from her in which she said she’d written two-thirds of it before giving up. Someone claimed Louise had read the whole thing at her kitchen table in Eufaula and declared it better than In Cold Blood. An English professor at the University of Alabama heard from Lee’s old friend Jim McMillan that she had written the whole book but her publisher had rejected it because it was “too sensitive a subject.” McMillan’s daughter had heard it was all written, too, but locked away in a trunk, and would not be published until after Lee died.
Lee had arrived in Alexander City with such enthusiasm and chased her story with such determination that publication of The Reverend seemed imminent, but her second book, like the Second Coming, appeared to be delayed. She spent years working on The Reverend, some of them under the watchful eye of her sisterly Cerberus in Eufaula. Three years after that stint in Barbour County, her new literary agent, Julie Fallowfield, said, “It’s my understanding Miss Lee is always working.” Nine years later, Fallowfield told another reporter the same thing: “She’s always working on something.” Read More