04 April 2012

So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell

Elegant, short, unexpected. I hadn't known that William Maxwell, one time editor of The New Yorker, was also a novelist.

The story is a complex boyhood memory, narrated by a man who lost his mother in childhood, and befriended the son of a man who murdered his wife's lover, and killed himself. Although this sounds gory and ghastly, the story is more about the textures and elements of life in Lincoln, Illinois, circa 1918. There is no mention of war, but the Flu epidemic plays a part: it is what claims the life of the protagonist's mother.

Probably the most interesting part, and the focus of this work, is the description and recounting of the relationships of the Smiths and the Wilsons, two tenant farmer families who live near to each other. Lloyd Wilson is a good friend and helper, always willing to lend a hand to Clarence Smith, but through a strange mixture of chemistry and circumstance, Lloyd falls in love with Mrs. Smith. The tragedy that ensues is laid out at the beginning of the novel, most of the rest of it details the movements and thoughts of the principal characters while all these events unfold.

I look forward to reading another of Maxwell's novels.

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