Mixed reviews and new controversies surround Harper Lee's second novel

'Go Set a Watchman'
The cover of "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee.
Courtesy of HarperCollins

For Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman," the critics have not been kind.

"A mess." -NPR

"A lumpy tale." -The New York Times

"An apprentice effort [that] falls apart in the second half." -The Los Angeles Times

But that didn't stop thousands of fans across the county from hitting the bookstore early this morning. Common Good Books in St. Paul had a dedicated crew camped outside the store in anticipation.

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The details of the novel's rediscovery keep changing

The long-awaited novel was actually written before "To Kill a Mockingbird." It centers around a 26-year-old Scout Finch as she returns home to Maycomb, Ala.

After reviewing it in the 1950s, Lee's editor suggested she re-work the novel from an earlier perspective. Lee's next draft was the classic "Mockingbird," which has sold more than 40 million copies to date.

The "Watchman" manuscript was set aside and only recently rediscovered — either this past fall or four years earlier, depending on which version of events you believe.

The "discovery" of the book has been mired in controversy, due to competing narratives. The world celebrated in February when news first broke that Lee's lawyer, Tonja Carter, had unearthed the novel by chance while combing through papers in a safe-deposit box.

Later, it emerged that a rare books expert for Sotheby's auction house may have reviewed and appraised this "lost" manuscript as early as 2011.

Now Carter has a new version of events, in which she admits she was actively searching for the novel when she found it at the bank in 2014.

This new account, writes The Wall Street Journal, "is unlikely to answer all the concerns of critics who have raised questions about how the book came to be published after being locked away for decades."

Fans and critics question Harper Lee's intent

One of the largest concerns has been whether the 89-year-old Lee even wanted "Watchman" — essentially a discarded first draft — to be published.

The notoriously private author has refused in-person interviews for decades, and many assumed she would never publish again. She has only made statements through her lawyer — the same lawyer who has delivered conflicting reports about finding the manuscript.

When news of the manuscript's discovery first broke, the state of Alabama opened an elder abuse investigation to determine whether Lee was being taken advantage of. They interviewed Lee in her nursing home, where she has lived since suffering a stroke in 2007.

Officials ultimately found that Lee was aware and in control of the publication decision. They closed their investigation in April.

That hasn't satisfied some fans, however, who are boycotting the book, claiming Lee does not want it published.

"Watchman" presents a new view of Atticus Finch

The latest controversy is not about where the book came from but what it says.

The book seems to undermine the legacy of Atticus Finch, who has long been considered one of the most beloved and revered characters in literature. In "Mockingbird," his unwavering defense of Tom Robinson in the face of Maycomb's rampant racism instilled Atticus as a moral compass for the country.

"Watchman," however, shows a new side of the literary legend. From The New York Times:

The depiction of Atticus in "Watchman" makes for disturbing reading, and for "Mockingbird" fans, it's especially disorienting. Scout is shocked to find, during her trip home, that her beloved father, who taught her everything she knows about fairness and compassion, has been affiliating with raving anti-integration, anti-black crazies, and the reader shares her horror and confusion. How could the saintly Atticus -- described early in the book in much the same terms as he is in "Mockingbird" -- suddenly emerge as a bigot?

But wait! A third book?

Just when fans and critics are devouring Lee's second book, her lawyer is already hinting at a third.

In Carter's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, "How I Found the Harper Lee Manuscript," she says she went back to the safe-deposit box just last week. She was looking to see if there were "other things hiding in plain sight."

She found "a significant number of pages of another typed text," she wrote. "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? I don't know."

According to Carter, experts are now reviewing the papers.