On vacation I finished reading Marja Mills' The Mockingbird Next Door
: My Life with Harper Lee
, a memoir about living next door to the reclusive writer in Monroeville, Alabama.
Nelle Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, were already up in years when Mills met them while reporting an article for the Chicago Tribune
. From those first contacts a relationship formed, and in this book Mills tells the story of the sisters' old-fashioned life: visiting friends, feeding ducks, and living with the books and memories of decades in their hometown.
Although Lee quickly denied having authorized the book (a controversy that has probably boosted sales), I read the memoir enthusiastically anyway. Not just for a glimpse of the author but also for a portrait of the place that she enshrined as Maycomb in her novel.
"It's the old Monroeville — the old Maycomb — that lives on in the imaginations of so many readers," Mills wrote. "It's the people and the places the Lees saw out the windows of the Buick all those years later." Mills refers here to the drives she took with the Lees and their friends, expeditions that helped her appreciate a vanishing way of life.
"Nelle's portrait of that community was so richly detailed, so specific and true to the small-town South during the Depression, that something universal emerged and, with it, the remarkably enduring popularity of the novel."
I like thinking that what makes To Kill
great us is not just the characters — but also the place they inhabited.
Labels: books, place