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[93] The Folded Leaf – William Maxwell

foldedleaf.jpg“The light dimmed and went out, and I remembered thinking then with surprise that this familiar thing, this comforting complete darkness that I had known every night of my life, was death.” (273)

The Folded Leaf fits in the line with A Separate Peace (despite a gay subtext) that the story is built upon an academic setting, in an all-boys rooming house. It’s a classic growing-pain tale of two boys who have nothing in common and would never have crossed each other’s path were it not for an accident at the swimming pool. That the athletic and slightly unruly Spud Latham saves the frail, flat-chested Lymie from going under in time plants a seed of friendship that will be tested by tough trials that touch the innermost of human heart.

However different Spud and Lymie might be in terms of physical attributes and academic merit, they are both caught up in the specious calm of changes in their relationship. Loneliness is what they have in common. That Lymie is raised by single parent and Spud, a transplant from Wisconsin who hates being in Chicago, rejects what his family offers him render both of them desirous of friendship and acceptance by the right people. Spud pledges fraternity, goes out with girls, boxes–everything that accentuates masculinity–at which his friend is inept. Lymie only finds himself effacing.

But Lymie is not even half as ambitious as Spud. He desires something that is simpler but dangerous and prohibitive–the tender touch of his friend. His secret affection for Spud encroaches his whole being and overflows at the constant appraisal of his friend’s body:

“Very often, looking at Spud, he felt the desire which he sometimes had looking at statues–to put out his hand and touch some part of Spud, the intricate interlaced muscles of his side, or his shoulder blades, or his back, or his flat stomach, or the veins of his wrists, or his small pointed ears.” (115)

When Spud mistakes the girl’s fondness for Lymie, and Lymie’s fondness for her, for something more than fondness of a friend, burnt in jealousy, he withdraws his friendship and alienates himself from Lymie. That Spud has been distrustful of Lymie and his relationship with Sally Forbes plunges Lymie further into his acute misery. Lymie doesn’t feel so much miserable at being mistaken for courting a girl as Spud fails to acknowledge his affection. It’s like a swift chain of explosions in his brain, one certainty after another blasts–up like a detonation goes the idea of any best friend, up goes affection and friendship and sticking by someone.

Serenely observed but deeply affecting, The Folded Leaf is a beautiful and profoundly poignant novel that is outmoded. What is not put into words, what is in between the lines, and what is left unsaid but pent-up and allured to weave together layers of relationship that are so tenderly intricate and delicate. Beneath this vagueness which is very much lived is the irrefutable fact in life that sometimes truth has no power to make itself be believed. This is the most touching novel I’ve read for a long time.

8 Responses

  1. I once atended a Jane Urquhart reading [one of Canada’s premiere writers, up there with the likes of Ondaatje and Atwood, really… I LOVE her]… and when asked who is her own favorite author[s] she started out by saying that William Maxwell was someone who is just not “read enough nowadays”.
    I sought him out, and read “So Long, See You Tomorrow” and it left me wanting.
    I should give him another try.
    Based on your review, and the opinion of Jane Urquhart, both of whom I cannot help but think are more right than I am!

  2. […] “Accidents, misdirections, overexcitement, heat, crowds, and heartbreaking delays you must expect when you go on a journey, just as you expect to have dreams at night. Whether or not you enjoy yourself at all depends on your state of mind.” — William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf […]

  3. Cipriano:
    I enjoyed So Long, See You Tomorrow so much. The Folded Leaf is however on a different scale as it describes the web of intricate relationships. It’s the kind of novel that half of the fun and enjoyment come from reading in between the lines.

    Thank you for your book and author recommendation. 🙂

  4. Glad to hear you liked this. I can’t wait to read Maxwell!

  5. Danielle:
    It’s one of the top titles of the year for me. Thanks for mentioning it on your blog! 🙂

  6. A Separate Peace is also subtextually queer.

  7. […] The Folded Leaf, William Maxwell. A classic story: Athletic and slightly unruly Spud Latham saves the frail, […]

  8. […] Light Years by James Salter, which seem to match my reading interest. Maxwell’s other novel, The Folded Leaf, has been one of my favorite books. It’s in the line with A Separate Peace (despite a gay […]

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