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Harper Lee's 'Go Set A Watchman' Surprises In 1st Chapter

MELISSA GRAY, BYLINE: (Reading) Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining car with a delight almost physical.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

That is the opening sentence of "Go Set A Watchman." As we heard from Joel Rose, characters long familiar to fans of "To Kill A Mockingbird" are in this book. And in the first chapter, we hear about Jean Louise's disapproving aunt Alexandra, her older brother and her beloved father, Atticus Finch. But when Jean Louise gets off the train from New York, Atticus is not there to greet her. Instead, there is an entirely new character - a suitor. Here's all little more of that first chapter.

GRAY: (Reading) She looked up the track toward the station and saw a tall man standing on a tiny platform. He jumped down and ran to meet her. He grabbed her in a bear hug, put her from him, kissed her hard on the mouth, then kissed her gently. Not here, Hank, she murmured, much pleased. Hush, girl, he said, holding her face in place. I'll kiss you on the courthouse steps if I want to.

The possessor of the right to kiss her on the courthouse steps was Henry Clinton, her lifelong friend, her brother's comrade, and if he kept on kissing her like that, her husband. Love whom you will, but marry your own kind, was a dictum amounting to instinct within her. Henry Clinton was Jean Louise's own kind, and now she did not consider the dictum particularly harsh.

They walked arm-in-arm down the track to collect her suitcase. How's Atticus, she said. His hands and shoulders are giving him fits today. He can't drive when they're like that, can he? Henry closed the fingers of his right hand halfway and said, he can't close them any more than this. Ms. Alexandra has to tie his shoes and button his shirts when they're like that. He can't even hold a razor. Jean Louise shook her head. She was too old to rail against the inequity of it but too young to accept her father's crippling disease without putting up some kind of fight. Isn't there anything they can do? You know there isn't, Henry said. He takes 70 grains of aspirin a day, and that's all.

Henry picked up her heavy suitcase, and they walked back toward the car. She wondered how she would behave when her time came to hurt day in and day out - hardly like Atticus. If you asked him how he was feeling, he would tell you, but he never complained. His disposition remained the same. So in order to find out how he was feeling, you had to ask him.

The only way Henry found out about it was by accident. One day when they were the records vault at the courthouse running a land title, Atticus hauled out a heavy mortgage book, turned stark white and dropped it. What's the matter, Henry had said. Rheumatoid arthritis. Can you pick it up for me, said Atticus. Henry asked him how long he'd had it. Atticus said six months. Did Jean Louise know? No. Then he'd better tell her. If you tell her, she'll be down here trying to nurse me. The only remedy for this is not to let it beat you. The subject was closed.

MCEVERS: An excerpt from Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman," with special thanks to The Wall Street Journal, which published the first chapter online today. It was read by NPR producer Melissa Gray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.