6 September 2015

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

William Maxwell's sublime writing will stand out as a highlight when I look back over my reading year.  I was completely swept away by They Came Like Swallows recently and bought two extra copies that have been passed on to friends.  A couple of weekends ago I bought a copy of So Long, See You Tomorrow and worried that it would pale by comparison and my admiration would be short-lived.  No chance.

Within a few pages I was thinking that Maxwell was repeating certain themes until I realized this book is somewhat of a continuation of They Came Like Swallows.  The story is Bunny's, but he is now a grown man so his childhood nickname is no longer referred to.  It isn't the end of the world if these two books are read out of sequence but I consider myself lucky that it worked out well.

Two boys, at the very beginning of their teenage years, meet and play on the framework of a house under construction.  Metaphorically teetering on the edge of potential danger without a care.  Then one day Cletus Smith fails to show up, the boys never to play together again.  The other boy, now a grown man, examines the events that scarred his childhood memories and sent a wave of suspicion and terror through Lincoln, Illinois in the early 1920s.

A pistol shot breaks the silence on a frosty morning.  Lloyd Wilson, a tenant farmer, is found dead in the barn by his six year-old son.

'Who believes children.  Brushing him and his story aside she ran to the barn.  Wilson was sitting on a milking stool in the middle stall, his body sunk over against the partition.  She caught him by the hand and cried, "Lloyd, what on earth is the matter with you?" - thinking he had been stricken with heart failure or possibly apoplexy.  As the child had said, he was sitting there with his eyes open but he was dead.'

A situation has been brewing between two families resulting in a tragic conclusion.  The ripple effect continues through extended family and the townspeople.

As in They Came Like Swallows this novella is succinct in words but epic in atmosphere.  The images of rustic farmhouses, dusty fields, and work clothes damp with sweat are juxtaposed with the wealthy farm owners who stop by to inspect their tenant farmer's capabilities.  The most powerful, and heartbreaking, observations are those of young Cletus.  His hyper-alert behaviour with far too few of life's experiences to piece them together are confusing and keep him awake at night.  The conversations that end abruptly when he enters a room or the appearance of aunts with faces full of sadness fill him with dread.  Cletus also wonders why his father is no longer the best of friends with Lloyd Wilson.

Weaving old newspaper clippings with childhood memories, Morison comes to fully understand the nature of what exactly happened over the span of several months when he was just a boy.  This resolution of events is followed by guilt.  Should he have said more to his boyhood friend, lent support, made more of an effort to find Cletus when he suddenly disappeared?

Once again, this author has surpassed my expectations.  His storytelling is perfectly paced and the moments of tension will have you holding your breath without realizing it.  William Maxwell also seems to excel at making me cry.  I'm about to order a copy of Time Will Darken It with the confidence it will be the third leg of a hat trick.


Photo credit here

10 comments:

  1. I am so pleased you liked this book ... it is on my 'keep to be re-read & then read again shelf' ...
    They Came Like Swallows is there as is Time Will Darken It.

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    1. I'm on 'mailbox watch' for my copy of Time Will Darken It and Harriet has left a comment saying she loved The Chateau. Let's face it...they're all going to end up on my shelf sooner or later!

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  2. Order with confidence! Time Will Darken It is quite as good, maybe even better. You've reminded me that I have a couple of his novels here still unread - I didn't want to read them all at once and have none to look forward to. Trouble is, he spoils you for anything else.

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    1. Book is on its way, Mary! I'm desperate to read more Bowen but feel the same way...once that joy of a first read is over with, then what? Not sure if you've read The Chateau but I'm going to spring for that as well...perhaps we could do a read-along at some point?

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  3. I'm in the middle of They Came Like Swallows (expect to finish tomorrow) and am engrossed. What a beautiful book! Now I know I will have to get his other novels, too.

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    1. You certainly will, Anbolyn! As soon as I wrap up here I'll have to stop by your place to see if you've posted a review. Also wondering if you blubbered at all....

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  4. I liked Time Will Darken It the best of these though all are wonderful. I also loved The Chateau. Thanks for this which reminds me what a wonderful writer he was.

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    1. I am SO excited that you think that, Harriet!
      Well, I have to add The Chateau to my list as well...the synopsis does sound irresistible.

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  5. Such a wonderful writer! My favorite is Time Will Darken It but I am glad Harriet mentioned The Chateau. I have been saving that one.

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    1. Isn't it funny that we save longed-for books? I'm doing it as well with some Elizabeth Bowen titles. Thanks for sharing!

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