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So Long, See You Tomorrow (Vintage Classics) (original 1981; edition 2012)

by William Maxwell

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8673010,202 (3.91)57
Member:regrettable
Title:So Long, See You Tomorrow (Vintage Classics)
Authors:William Maxwell
Info:Vintage Classics (2012), Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (1981)

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English (23)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
After slogging through two 700+ page novels in the past couple of months, I have to say, reading this sparse but sad and beautiful book was a true pleasure. Now this is a story. In my opinion, it takes more talent to tell such a detailed, concise and emotional tale than to simply keep on typing to fill pages. I just happened upon this short novel by Maxwell but plan on reading more of his work in the future. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Mar 22, 2014 |
Such a beautifully constructed little book. Maxwell does a wonderful job painting a picture of grief from an adolescent point of view, which is to say an inability to actually engage it head-on -- so it swoops in from different angles, POVs, narratives, echoing the narrator's reluctance to lay his hands directly on his own pain. Really effective, and something I'll probably go back to in order to look more closely at its workings. And in general just a wonderful, human novel. ( )
1 vote lisapeet | Jan 4, 2014 |
I had read that Maxwell was a writer's writer. I am not a writer but I appreciate good, clear writing. I am not a fan of post-modern prose. This book did not disappoint. This short novel is an example of simple declarative sentences and tightly constructed narrative. The plot is a combination of mystery and coming of age as the narrator looks back on a pivotal moment in his youth. ( )
  ccayne | Sep 15, 2013 |
After meeting Maxwell's biographer, I decided that I should read some of his work. His final novel is about as elegiac as they come, with terribly sad moments combined with some extraordinarily beautiful writing. ( )
  wanack | Jul 29, 2013 |
Michael Ondaatje included this book in his list of 12 classics from the 20th century. His blurb on the cover of the book says, "This is one of the great books of our age. It is the subtlest of miniatures that contains our deepest sorrows and truths and love--all caught in a clear, simple style in perfect brushstrokes." I agree.

The novel is set in small-town illinois in the early 1920s. A farmer (Lloyd Wilson) is murdered one morning in his barn and it appears that the culprit was another farmer (Clarence Smith) who had been Wilson's best friend until it came out that after 12 years of friendship Wilson and Smith's wife (Fern) began an affair. This is the precipitate event from which flows the unravelling of these families, these lives.

Smith's body and shotgun were found in a quarry shortly after the murder. The coroner's verdict was death by gunshot wound. The belief was suicide in the remorse of losing his family and killing his erstwhile friend. By the time of the murder both families had been torn apart: the Smiths through divorce and bankruptcy and Clarence's increasing depression, the Wilson's through separation of husband and wife and sons and daughters, and Marie Wilson would not grant a divorce so Lloyd and Fern could never be together.

The novel recounts these lives within the framework of the life and family of the narrator, now an old man, through the death of his mother in the 1918 epidemic, his father remarrying, the family's move to Chicago for a new job and new life for his family. As a child, our narrator had no connection with either the Smiths or the Wilsons but he did have a brief friendship with Cletus, son of Clarence Smith, after the divorce and before the murder of Lloyd Wilson and the death of Clarence Smith. Fifty years later, the narrator reconstructs events in his own search for the truth of the past and to assuage a guilt from that earlier time.

Ah....but what is the truth? As our narrator muses, "What we, or at any rate I, refer to confidently as memory--meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion--is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw."

Ondaatje is right about the "clear simple style in perfect brushstrokes" as Maxwell gently and unobtrusively presents the myriad and conflicting emotions that swirl around faded love and desire, lust and love, abuse, denial, the confusion and hurt of children as collateral damage in the malestrom of adult relations and turmoil, the meaning of young friendships, the inability to ever really know another person in their thoughts and desires, the social strictures of the time, and the meaning of 'truth' in a specific incident and time and how that reverberates through life.

The ambiguity of memory permeates the novel, even to its conclusion. The narrator and Cletus do not stay friends but the narrator is long tormented by the thought that, "When enough time has passed he will know that I haven't told anybody...". Told what? That Cletus in fact was the murderer of a man he once liked very much but whom he blamed for ruining his family? And Clarence, in his depression, then took his own life to cover-up his son's deed? Or was it the lesser crime of Cletus simply being happy that his abusive father was dead? But why would this be a secret that Fern would have worried about a 15-year old boy telling?

Our narrator ends wondering what happened to Cletus in his life and, "...whether the series of events that started with the murder of Lloyd Wilson--whether all that finally began to seem less real, more like something he dreamed, so that instead of being stuck there he could go on and by the grace of God lead his own life, undestroyed by what was not his doing.". What was not his doing? The murder or the inexorable events that precipitated it in the mind of a teenage boy?

Ambiguities, uncertainties, unknowabilities, memory as a construct, the 'truth' of an event unfixed....such is life...such is the play Maxwell has so well presented here.
  John | Apr 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Told from the viewpoint of an old man who feels guilt about his broken connection to a high-school friend after the friend suffers a terrible trauma, the story is sad, primal, deeply American. The writing is as clear and sharp as grain alcohol.
 
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For Robert Fitzgerald
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The gravel pit was about a mile east of town, and the size of a small lake, and so deep that boys under sixteen were forbidden by their parents to swim there.
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What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory - meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion - is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679767207, Paperback)

In this magically evocative novel, William Maxwell explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois. A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed. And the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers—one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy—has been shattered.Fifty years later, one of those boys—now a grown man—tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. In doing so, he is inevitably drawn back to his lost friend Cletus, who has the misfortune of being the son of Wilson's killer and who in the months before witnessed things that Maxwell's narrator can only guess at. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:27 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

[In this book, the author] explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois. A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed. And the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers - one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy - has been shattered. Fifty years later, one of those boys - now a grown man - tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. In doing so, he is inevitably drawn back to his lost friend Cletus, who had the misfortune of being the son of Wilson's killer and who in the months before witnessed things that Maxwell's narrator can only guess at. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, [the author] creates a [story] of youth and loss.-Back cover.… (more)

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