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William Maxwell (1) (1908–2000)

Author of So Long, See You Tomorrow

For other authors named William Maxwell, see the disambiguation page.

27+ Works 5,028 Members 142 Reviews 29 Favorited

About the Author

Born in Lincoln, Illinois in 1908, William Maxwell is one of America's more prominent writers. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award (1994), and the American Book Award (1982) for his novel "So Long, See You Tomorrow." Maxwell's fiction has been show more described as nostalgic. Most of his work takes place in simpler, gentler times in the small towns of the American Midwest. Two of Maxwell's novels, "They Came Like Swallows" (1937) and "So Long, See You Tomorrow" (1980), deal with characters who lose relatives in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Maxwell's own mother died in the epidemic when he was ten years old. Maxwell published his first novel, "Bright Center of Heaven," in 1934. He moved to New York City in 1936 and was hired by the New Yorker. His years as an editor there, 1936 to 1976, coincided with what many believe are the magazine's finest. This was the era that saw the publication of the works of many accomplished writers, such as J. D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, John Updike, and Mary McCarthy in the New Yorker's pages. Maxwell has published six novels, several collections of short stories, a family history, and numerous book reviews. He served as president of the National Institute of Arts and letters from 1969 to 1972. William Maxwell has been married for over 50 years to the former Emily Noyes. They met at the New Yorker when she applied for a job. The couple has two daughters. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by William Maxwell

So Long, See You Tomorrow (1979) 1,690 copies
They Came like Swallows (1937) 599 copies
The Folded Leaf (1945) 509 copies
Time Will Darken It (1948) 363 copies
The Chateau (1961) 342 copies
Ancestors: A Family History (1971) 146 copies

Associated Works

Fifty Great American Short Stories (1965) — Contributor — 427 copies
Joe Gould's Secret (1965) — Introduction, some editions — 397 copies
Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (2000) — Contributor — 354 copies
The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories (1994) — Contributor — 315 copies
The 40s: The Story of a Decade (2014) — Contributor — 271 copies
The Best American Essays 1998 (1998) — Contributor — 190 copies
Nothing But You: Love Stories From The New Yorker (1997) — Contributor — 184 copies
New York Stories (Everyman's Pocket Classics) (2011) — Contributor, some editions — 152 copies
Bedtime Stories (Everyman's Pocket Classics) (2011) — Contributor — 121 copies
Stories from The New Yorker, 1950 to 1960 (1958) — Contributor — 80 copies
Four in Hand: A Quartet of Novels (1986) — Introduction, some editions — 70 copies
200 Years of Great American Short Stories (1975) — Contributor — 68 copies
55 Short Stories from The New Yorker, 1940 to 1950 (1949) — Contributor — 60 copies
Food Tales: A Literary Menu of Mouthwatering Masterpieces (1992) — Contributor — 38 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1970 (1970) — Contributor — 23 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1966 (1966) — Contributor — 17 copies

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Reviews

I'm not quite sure what to make of this book, but for now it seems to me an uncomfortable attempt at compressing two stories of betrayal into one book - a melancholic story, set in 1920s Illinois farmland, of the early life and 'disasters' of the narrator, and his later adolescent guilt at ignoring a friend in a key moment, with a more dramatic account of marital infidelity and subsequent tragedy involving his friend's parents. That's not to say it isn't well-written stylistically - Maxwell certainly knows how to make interesting sentences and vivid scenes and pack a whole world into few words.

The slender thread with which the two stories are tied is the relationship of the two friends, two boys. It is a relationship that Maxwell leaves underdeveloped and superficially drawn - we know they played together and went to the same school, but little else. This casual childhood relationship comes across as insubstantial and opaque, compared with the relationships - say - between the two husbands, or the husbands and their wives, in the story of sexual betrayal.

This unsatisfying off-kilter combination of two stories comes with a puzzling obsession by the narrator with the second story, in which he plays no part and has to speculate about and imagine, helped along by trawling some old newspapers. Maxwell makes this fabrication clear, and so has his narrator provide a kind of fantasy drama in very realistic terms (so that we barely notice by the end of the book the degree to which almost all of the dialogue, events and motivations are 'made up' by his narrator).

Perhaps there is some playful meta-commentary at work here - lulling the reader into a false 'reality' in a way that may eventually remind us, if we care, that even the first story of the boy and his guilt is equally 'false' (while sounding 'real').

The narrator's unreliable and quixotic positioning by Maxwell is highlighted at moments briefly. The narrator tells us at one point: "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 take." In an aside, he lets us know the other boy's name 'isn't his real name', without further explanation for that choice. He tells us: "If any part of the following mixture of truth and fiction strikes the reader as unconvincing, he has my permission to disregard it. I would be content to stick to the facts if there were any." Replaying his own betrayal of his friend, he says "Sometimes I almost remember" passing him in the school corridors.

In all of this there is a kind of authorial teasing - we are offered some unknowable mix of 'facts' only to be reminded that this is - in fact - 'fiction'; we are convinced by the potentially 'unconvincing'; we are left without 'the real' while being fed 'realism'; we accept Maxwell's (and his narrator's) potentially unacceptable 'lies' because they have 'conformed to this end'.

I also wonder about the irony of putting a rich fantasy of adult relationships and infidelity and its consequences within the narrative framing of a brief and ephemeral 'real' childhood relationship. Not to mention the hint of a 'Freudian' projection of the narrator's childhood grief in the form of an adult fixation with his friend's loss.

Maxwell undoubtedly offers some thought-provoking themes of memory and imagination in the context of stories of betrayal and guilt. The writing is for the most part fluent and the characters lifelike, the pace (in a short book) is compelling and the social and cultural context of the story is deftly observed. I'm not sure he quite pulls off whatever he was attempting, however - as if he didn't quite find a good enough recipe for some otherwise flavoursome ingredients. Having said that, perhaps I will remember - or reimagine - this book in a different way over time.

Footnote:
There's some helpful insight too from an interview Maxwell gave the Paris Review, including the reference to a Giacometti sculpture, in two other Goodreads reviews: here and here
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breathslow | 65 other reviews | Jan 27, 2024 |
 
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Kalapana | 1 other review | Jan 22, 2024 |
THE CHATEAU opens with some good:

'He sat up and looked through the porthole and there it was, across the open water,
a fact, in plain sight, a real place, a part of him because he could say he had seen it."

If only the book had offered more memorable scenes instead of devolving into insecure and timid half melancholy/half sadness:
why took a day to ask where the toilet was, why not set the twin beds next to each other, why not ask for heat? a tub? hot water?

Around page 150, the plot and characters were finally enlivened from the repetitive daily boredom of sitting around and talk-talk-talking
while fake pleasing each other, even the husband and wife, Harold and Barbara, when The Frenchman, Eugene B. asked frank American questions.

As my chosen AAC challenge book, I had decided to plow through and finish it until arriving at page 202: "I prefer a nigger to a Jew."

Zero response from Harold.

End reading.
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m.belljackson | 5 other reviews | Jan 18, 2024 |
So Long, See You Tomorrow written by William Maxwell is a confusing bore even at 100 pages. Written in the late 1970s, the novel doesn't hold up. I thought the fact that Maxwell was gay might offer interesting insights but that wasn't the case.
 
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GordonPrescottWiener | 65 other reviews | Aug 24, 2023 |

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