I’ve been treating myself to visits with old friends this summer, re-reading some of my favorite books. I started with So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Maxwell was the fiction editor at The New Yorker for 40 years, gently refining stories by John Cheever, John Updike, and many, many others. But Maxwell was himself a fine writer, and So Long, See You Tomorrow is the first of his books I read.
At the heart of the novel is the story of two boys, the unnamed narrator and his classmate Cletus. Cletus’s life is shattered by a fatal act of violence, and the narrator’s is scarred by his response to Cletus. With precise detail and a measured cadence, Maxwell takes us through the town’s streets and into families’ kitchens and barns. He lovingly creates characters–complex, flawed, wise and foolish, generous and short-sighted, kindhearted and grasping. The book jacket describes this book as “widely considered [Maxwell’s] finest achievement, an Old Testament tragedy played out on the Illinois prairie, told as reminiscence in a voice that is quiet, plain, compassionate, and wise.” It is a novel of profound stillness and immense power.