One of the most unique and gripping books I have read in the past few months is called Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep.
The first half of the book is a gripping, true-crime story about a preacher who murdered his relatives to collect on life insurance policies.
The second half of the book, equally gripping, tells the life story of Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, including her ambitions to write a book about the murderous preacher.
Why didn’t Lee’s prospective book get written? Why did Casey Cep have to do the job, in this nonfiction page-turner, after Harper Lee’s death in 2016?
“Nothing writes itself. Left to its own devices, the world will never transform into words, and no matter how many pages of notes and interviews and documents a reporting trip generates, the one that matters most always starts out blank. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm called this space between reporting and writing an ‘abyss.’ It is an awful place, and an awfully easy place to get stuck. Everyone told Harper Lee that the story she had found was destined to be a best seller. But no one could tell her how to write it.”
—Casey Cep, Furious Hours
Cep manages to move past the abyss herself. There’s no book like Furious Hours. It tells both the story Harper Lee reported on but never wrote, as well as the story of that story.
Why didn’t Harper Lee write the book she set out to write? Well, it’s complicated, and Cep doesn’t find one single culprit. It was more of a confluence of forces . . . the ramifications of Lee’s immense and unrelenting fame . . . her particular personality . . . her relationships with her literary agents and her editors and her family and the famous writer Truman Capote . . . the difficulties inherent in the story itself . . . and more elusive causes. . . .
However, in the end, excuses or no excuses, there was no book.
Where’s your book (or your . . . insert any end result you wish to achieve)?