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William Maxwell


Another great find from Bangkok is William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, a slim novel that was published in two parts in The New Yorker in 1976. The autobiographical novel tells the story of a young boy growing up in the rural town of Lincoln, Illinois, whose mother dies of influenza and whose father remarries. The boy, who narrates the novel, forms a brief friendship with a young neighbor named Cletus Smith, the son of a murderer.

The book seems to be an ordinary tale of a murder in a small town in the early part of the century. It is told from the point of view of a man, now in his sixties, who is looking back on his friendship with the son of a murdered man. Simplicity itself.

“I never felt sophisticated,” the erudite and elderly Midwesterner explained to NPR’s Terry Gross in 1995. His modesty is certainly one reason why William Maxwell remains a connoisseur’s writer, never achieving the wider recognition he deserves. Yet Maxwell’s career was situated at the epicenter of American literature and letters: On staff at the New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, he was the editor of J.D. Salinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Eudora Welty, Frank O’Connor, John Cheever, and many other luminaries.


One Response

  1. I remember coming home from work and finding that the latest issue of The New Yorker had arrived. I collapsed on my couch and began to read what I assumed was a short story with the intriguing title “So Long, See You Tomorrow”. Even when I began to realize it was a longer piece, I couldn’t put it down. Imagine my horror when I came to the end only to discover I’d have to wait for the next issue to read the conclusion. Then I realized I’d been reading for well over an hour and hadn’t even taken off my jacket or kicked off my shoes or done any of my usual after-work chores. Next week couldn’t come soon enough. I love that book and have reread it many times.

    My current bedside book is What There is to Say We Have Said — the correspondence of William Maxwell and Eudora Welty. I cannot express how rich and illuminating their letters are.

    Such a friendship — where I’m reading at present (1973-1974) they are mourning the loss of their friend, Elizabeth Bowen, and discussing the work of E. M. Forster as well as sharing news of their families (Maxwell’s wife Emily’s correspondence with Welty is included), thanking each other for Christmas gifts and — a frequent topic of conversation — exchanging news about their flower gardens. I try not to read too many letters at once — I do not want the book to end. Like all the best books, it has sent me scurrying to read so many other works — not only theirs, but that of other authors. I feel as though I’ve watched the Maxwell daughters grow up. I’ve been allowed to listen in while editor and writer discuss her progress and struggles as she writes stories and books that are now classics, and to read her encouragement to him as he works on his own writing. This book is a treasure.

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