The announcement that celebrated To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee would be publishing a new book - an old manuscript for Mockingbird sequel called Go Set a Watchman - rocked the literary world last week. For decades, Lee had said that she would never publish again, leaving her timeless novel as her lasting achievement.
But Watchman's sudden existence has not only rekindled the public's affection for Lee's work, but it has also reignited the 88-year-old's desire to write again. And the subject for her next book might be shocking to some, but comes as no surprise to confidants.
A long-time resident of New York, Lee has been a dedicated hockey fan since the early 1970's. Friends say she has no single team affiliation and can watch two or three games a night even at her age.
For her new story, Lee has chosen to focus on her favorite sport and one of the most tragic, frustrating and fascinating things she's ever seen on the ice - the 2014-15 New York Islanders' and their historically awful penalty killing unit.
Lee's novel, tentatively titled To Kill a Penalty, tells the story of Scott "Scout" Finch, grandson of the original book's protagonist of the same name, who is signed as a free agent by the Islanders. Along the way to the playoffs, Scout and the Islanders tackle loss, social issues and some of the most dangerous power plays in hockey. Characters include coach Jack "Cappy" Capuano, assistant coach Greg "Crow" Cronin, captain John "Jem" Tavares, as well as other players and staff.
"This is the book I truly feel I need to write at this stage," Lee said in a statement through her publisher. "Mockingbird was about the American South in my youth, but Penalty is about how life and sports intersect, as seen through my eyes. Of course, it's also about how unbelievably bad the Islanders penalty killing is because, boy howdy, is it terrible."
A few short early excerpts from the book are being published here for the first time. Lee said she expects To Kill a Penalty to hit bookshelves by Christmas, which could also be the next time the Islanders go a whole game without giving up a power play goal.
I knew I had annoyed Coach Cappy, so I let well enough alone and stared out the window until recess when Jem Tavares cut me from the covey of penalty-killers in practice.
He asked how I was getting along. I told him. "If I didn't have to stay I'd leave. Jem, that damn assistant coach Crow says he been teaching me to PK and for me to listen to h-"
"Don't worry, Scout," Jem comforted me. "Coach Crow is introducing a new way of teaching. He learned about it in Toe-ronto, wherever that is. It'll be on all the teams soon."
"Yeah Jem, but I don't wanta study systems, I-"
"Sure you do. You hafta know about systems and spots an' passing lanes an' good sticks an' walls an' usin' the yella stripes on the boards an' umbrellas and where to be at all times, they're a big part of life on the penalty kill."
I contented myself with asking Jem if he'd lost his mind.
Every night-sound I heard from my cot on the back porch was magnified threefold; every scratch of feet on gravel was Phil Kessel in the slot, every passing breeze laughing in the night was Sidney Crosby loose and after us; insects splashing against the screen were Alex Ovechkin's insane fingers picking our penalty kill to pieces.
In the waning moonlight I saw Jem swing his feet to the floor. "I'm goin‘ to the video room," he said.
I sat upright. "You can't. I won't let you."
He was struggling into his shirt. "I've got to. Maybe I can help figure out a PK scheme of our own that works."
"You do an‘ I'll wake up Cappy."
I pulled him down beside me on the cot. I tried to reason with him. "Crow's gonna find you, Jem. When he tells Cappy it'll be pretty bad, that's all there is to it. Go'n back to bed."
"We keep givin' up power play goals, Scout. That's what I know," said Jem. "That's why I'm goin‘."
We followed the play with our eyes and looked where Jem pointed.as not much more than a speck in the distance, but he was closer to us.
The whole PK unit skated erratically, as if everybody's right legs were shorter than their left legs. They reminded me of a zamboni stuck in a sandbed.
"They've gone lopsided," said Jem.
Cal Clutterbuck stared, then grabbed us by the shoulders. He turned to the coaches.
"Mr. Crow!" he shouted. "I swear to God there's a mad dog down the ice - he's comin‘ this way. I declare it's old Tyler Johnson! Sir?... sir!"
But Coach Crow wasn't listening and Cal was getting right ornery. Cal rattled his stick against the boards and said to Nick Kulemin, "Mister Kuley - I'm through talkin‘ to Crow, can you call Boychuk and Leddy and whoever's got a stick on this ice and tell 'em a mad dog's comin‘? Please man!"
But it was already too late. Old Tyler Johnson had already scored.
I sometimes felt a twinge of remorse, when passing by the old Coliseum, at ever having taken part in what must have been sheer torment of fans - what reasonable person wants to peep through his fingers, watching his team stumbling around a penalty kill like a drunk at night?
We had almost seen it a couple of times, a kill good enough for the top half of the league. Almost, but never there.
Maybe someday they would see it. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, we'd just be sitting in the stands when it came along. "Hidy do. Nice penalty kill we got here. Lookit them pucks clear the zone," I would say, as if I had said it every afternoon of my life.
"Excellent kill," people around me would say, as if they had all said it every afternoon of their lives, "right pretty spell we're having, isn't it?"
"Yes sir, right pretty," I would say, and go on.
This is obviously completely fake and extremely stupid. I hope it was at least more entertaining than an Islanders penalty kill. For more fake Islanders literature, check out Jack Capuano's best-selling "L.A." Jake "Guns" Absuano books here and here.