NEW YORK: Scout is all grown-up and living in New York, and her childhood friend wants to marry her back home in Alabama. Her father, Atticus Finch, is 72 and afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis.
These are the plot details given away in the first chapter of Harper Lee’s hotly anticipated second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” published by The Wall Street Journal and Guardian newspapers on Friday, and in an audio clip read by Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon.
The new novel, which is already a best-seller at online retail giant Amazon, will be published by HarperCollins on Tuesday.
Lee’s only previous novel, the best-selling masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for its tale of racial injustice in the Depression-era South.
“Mockingbird” has become standard reading in American classrooms and has been translated into more than 40 languages, as well as adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck.
Lee, 89, lives as a recluse in a nursing home in Monroeville, Alabama, and news that “Watchman” would be published by HarperCollins sparked feverish speculation about whether she was of sound mind.
Lee wrote the manuscript in the mid-1950s, when an editor told the 31-year-old author to recast the book from the childhood perspective of Scout, which eventually turned into “Mockingbird.”
The original manuscript was seemingly re-discovered recently by her lawyer.
“Watchman” begins with Scout, or Jean Louise Finch, taking the train home to Maycomb County on her fifth annual visit from New York.
As she nears her destination, Scout ruminates on the scenery, the history of Maycomb and her family.
When she arrives, she is met not by her father but by Henry Clinton, her lifelong friend and her father’s junior partner, who kisses her full on the mouth and then proposes.
Scout turns him down. “‘Henry’, she said primly, ‘I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you.'”
Henry had told her that Atticus could not collect her because his arthritis made him unable to drive that morning.
“Jean Louise shook her head. She was too old to rail against the inequity of it, but too young to accept her father’s crippling disease without putting up some kind of fight.”