I admit it. For all of the flaws that I now recognize in her book – I still resist making that plural – I remain obsessed with Harper Lee. I recently saw the play in New York. Though I missed the opportunity to see Ms. Cep when she came to Cleveland, I am glad it prompted me to read her book.
I love the structure of the book. In some sense, the first half is a nod at doing what Lee, as far as we can tell, never managed to finish – a non-fiction novel covering many of the same topics as both To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood. The second brings in Lee and her research in preparation for writing and publishing her second book. As brutal and difficult as the first part is, the second part is often quite sad. The obstacles that got in her way, some familial and some self-inflicted are heartbreaking. She apparently drank a lot. Whether that was in response to the pressures she felt after the instant success of her book and the movie version or the tensions brought on by her dual life (Alabama, New York; Nelle, Harper; private, public), well, it does not matter and, to her credit, Cep avoids the psychoanalysis so many biographers undertake.
On the one hand, I hope, as is constantly rumored with Salinger, that more, including possibly the book she researched, will come out, though I am skeptical about the integrity of her estate, given the way Go Set a Watchman and a few other things have been handled since she became seriously ill and subsequently died. Apparently, there are only a few fictionalized pages. Given her often understated contributions to in Cold Blood, I suspect it would have been great. And it also would put to rest the notion that she was a one-hit wonder.
On the other hand, if To Kill a Mockingbird is your one hit, that’s a pretty impressive contribution to the world.
I’ve read a few interview responses about why Cep chose the title, Furious Hours. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem right to me. The point with Lee and, indeed with the case that she was researching, is that everything took a long time.