Tag Archives: William Maxwell

The unexpected cry (1)

At the beginning of William Maxwell’s novel, the mother has died leaving small children.

‘My mother’s sisters and my father’s sisters and my grandmother all watched over us. If they hadn’t, I don’t know what would have become of us, in that sad house, where nothing ever changed, where life had come to a standstill. My father was all but undone by my mother’s death. In the evening after supper he walked the floor and I walked with him, with my arm around his waist. I was ten years old. He would walk from the living room into the front hall, then, turning, past the grandfather’s clock and on into the library, and from the library into the living room. Or he would walk from the library into the dining room and then into the living room by another doorway, and back to the front hall. Because he didn’t say anything, I didn’t either. I only tried to sense, as he was about to turn, which room he was going to next so we wouldn’t bump into each other. His eyes were focused on things not in those rooms and his face was the color of ashes. ‘

Towards the end of the novel, the boy is an older man.

‘After six months of lying on an analyst’s couch- this too was a long time ago – I relived that nightly pacing , with my arm around my father’s waist. From the living room into the front hall, then, turning, past the grandfather’s clock and on into the library, and from the library into the living room. From the library into the dining room, where my mother lay in her coffin. Together we stood looking down at her. I meant to say to the fatherly man who was not my father, the elderly Viennese, another exile, with thick glasses and a Germanic accent, I meant to say I couldn’t bear it, but what came out of my mouth was ” I can’t bear it”. This statement was followed by a flood of tears such as I hadn’t known before, not even in my childhood. I got up from the leather couch and, I somehow knew, with his permission left his office and the building and walked down Sixth Avenue to my office. New York City is a place where one can weep on the sidewalk in perfect privacy.

Other children could have borne it, have borne it. My older brother did, somehow. I couldn’t.’

— William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow


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Filed under memories

memory and experience

I seem to remember that I went to the new house one winter day and saw snow descending through the attic to the upstairs bedrooms. It could also be that I never did any such thing, for I am fairly certain that in a snapshot album I have lost track of there was a picture of the house taken in the circumstances I have just described, and it is possible that I am remembering that rather than an actual experience.

What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory- meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion – is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the storytelling.

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 draw.

William Maxwell So Long, See You Tomorrow The Harvill Press London 1998 p27

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Filed under memories, story

on not being too clear

I learned more from trying to edit [William Maxwell] than the other way around. I still recall a recalcitrant sentence of his, near the bottom of a galley, that we stared at and scribbled over together for a good ten minutes. “It’s still not clear,” I said at last and when Bill, leaning his head on one hand, murmured, “I don’t want it to be too clear,” I saw, as if in a parable, the artist’s heart that ruled his editor’s brain.       Roger Angell, Let Me Finish

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Filed under the writing process