‘The mockingbird next door’ or ‘Notes on wringing out a dry sponge’

indexWriters sure have devoted a lot of ink to documenting the life of Harper Lee, a woman who has repeatedly asked that she not be written about. That Marja Mills may have had the consent of the Lee family is perhaps the most interesting fact offered in The mockingbird next door, a book that otherwise says very little that is new about its subject.

The book is less a biography of Harper Lee and more a memoir of Mills’ time in Alabama in close proximity to the Lee sisters. Mills is a fine writer and us city-folk love reading about country life with its zany food (sawmill gravy!) and unusual amusements (fishing with hotdogs for bait!). But if you pick up The mockingbird next door because Harper Lee is your favorite writer in the world and you want to know everything about her and you need to understand why she didn’t ever publish another book then you, my friend, are in for a disappointment.

Here are some questions Marja Mills acknowledges you might have about Harper Lee for which she does not have the answer:

Q: Why did Harper Lee never marry?

A: Dunno

Q: Did she ever date or have a serious romantic relationship?

A: Dunno

Q: Is Harper Lee a lesbian?

A: Dunno

Q: Why did Harper Lee never write a book after To kill a mockingbird?

A: Dunno*

*Mills does provide an answer to this question but acknowledges that her answer is probably bullshit.

Though Mills wasn’t able to provide information on Lee’s life or writing that hasn’t already been covered by her unauthorized biographers, she did write a charming memoir of her time in the south and if you go into the reading with that as your expectation you will not be disappointed. I’ve noted this article before, but if you really want some new information about Lee and her legacy I encourage you to read Michelle Dean’s excellent Gawker piece about the controversy surrounding the publication of Mills’ book.


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