Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Elder Abuse Next Door

The woman who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD does not do public appearances. She has not written another book since that first one, and doesn't grant interviews to talk about her book. When she does talk to a reporter, she doesn't have much to say about her personal life. She guards her privacy.

In short, Harper Lee has largely retreated from the world, and the world is that much more fascinated by the author who penned a novel so powerful that it is still read and discussed.

Given that level of fascination, it comes as no surprise that someone would figure out a way to probe that which is hidden behind the curtains of the home where Harper Lee lives with her elderly sister Alice. Go in through the back door if the front door is locked, in a way, and Marja Mills waltzed right in.

THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR is scheduled for release in a few days, and the book is being sold as a cooperative effort between Ms. Mills and the subject of her expose. Early reviewers chirp about the interesting anecdotes and isn't it all true because Ms. Harper Lee was behind Ms. Mills and granted her access and at last the veil is lifted.

Except Ms. Harper Lee begs to differ.

Through her lawyer, Ms. Lee has issued a letter in which she states very clearly that she did not cooperate in any way with Marja Mills. The only access that was granted came from Ms. Mills managing to rent a home next door to the Lee sisters. Isn't that convenient. And then Ms. Mills proceeded to make friends with Alice, who at 100 years of age was exhibiting the sort of neighborliness that you'd expect from someone who was raised in a more trusting time.

Sure if the neighbor stops by for tea you invite her in and have a chat. It would be rude to shut the door in her face, and who would expect that she was setting you up so that she could pump you for information about a famous sister and the childhood that shaped an author.

As far as Harper Lee is concerned, Ms. Mills took advantage of her sister and it wasn't long before Ms. Harper figured out what the new neighbor was about. The author managed to avoid the woman, which sounds like a bit of misery and inconvenience visited upon someone who just wants to be left alone.

There was no cooperation, but there was a purported neighbor being all friendly for nefarious purposes. Marja Mills crafted a statement for her publisher, in which Alice Lee acknowledged that her sister had cooperated with Ms. Mills in the writing of the biography, but there again Ms. Harper Lee sees elder abuse. 100-year-old Alice didn't write the statement, but she was convinced to sign it, and anyone who would move in next door to worm her way into an old woman's confidence wouldn't hesitate to talk that same old woman into signing a statement.

"The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills’s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle."(Penguin overview)

Penguin is touting the cooperation angle to sell the biography, but Harper Lee the subject of said biography has declared that she didn't cooperate at all and so, the publisher's marketing is false. Caveat emptor, in that case. You may think you're getting the inside story but you're getting nothing but the connivances of a clever manipulator who took advantage of an elderly woman who did not suspect the ulterior motives of her neighbor.

"It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a great friendship" according to Penguin, but when Marja Mills moved in next door, it was the begiinning of a clever bit of manipulation to get a story that is all but guaranteed to sell because the world is fascinated by Harper Lee.

Who did not cooperate in the making of THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR, despite what Penguin wants you to think. Could there be a lawsuit in the future?

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