Katie Couric heads to Monroeville, Alabama in the latest episode of Viewfinder, her show on Yahoo!, to tell the story behind Go Set a Watchman, the highly-anticipated second novel from Harper Lee, due for release on July 14. Although she doesn’t have many new answers about why Go Set a Watchman is finally being published now after decades locked in a safe (Couric is merely the latest journalist denied an interview by Lee’s agent, Tonja Carter), Couric did pick up many new interesting details about the book by talking to people involved in it: Jonathan Burnham, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Harper, and actress Reese Witherspoon, who recorded the audio version of the novel.
According to Burnham, the novel follows a 26-year-old Scout (who has now abandoned that moniker in favor of her true name, Jean-Louise) after she returns to her hometown to visit her father Atticus Finch and assorted childhood friends. Readers should expect several characters from To Kill a Mockingbird to show up (including, perhaps, Boo Radley himself). “It’s a novel by a 26-year old who is feeling passionately about the issues of her day, and it has that power,” Burnham told Couric.
Couric’s interviewees suggest the book offers a more complicated take on the charged racial issues of its day. “At this point, having written 10 books about Alabama in the 20th century, having known Nelle and Nelle’s view of tolerance and acceptance and racial justice, no, she’s not happy with Atticus Finch, she’s not happy with Lee, her father,” historian Dr. Wayne Flynt told Couric. “She’s going back to confront Monroe, to confront her father, I think.”
As Couric notes, racial tensions remain at the forefront of American news and politics today. Burnham told Couric that he thinks the novel will spark important debate. “I think people will have strong feelings about it because it actually has real relevance, real topicality, in its treatment of race,” Burnham told Couric. “I think it will incite incredible discussion and conversation and argument.”
But although the book’s issues may ring true today, it was still written in a different time, with different attitudes. Witherspoon told Couric that the result is a complex reading experience. “It shocked me, as being a modern woman in 2015, reading some of the words. I had to keep reminding myself it was written in the ’50s, and these were the complex issues that people of the day were dealing with,” she says. “And old attitudes and modern thinking was just evolving about race relations in our country. So I think you will feel all that complexity in the piece.” Check out Couric’s full segment below.