Later Novels and Stories
The Château • So Long, See You Tomorrow • Stories and Improvisations 1957–1999
"It warms the heart to hold almost all of Maxwell's fiction in two sizable, relatively imperishable Library of America volumes, timed to be published a hundred years after his birth."
—John Updike, The New Yorker
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Read an exclusive interview with volume editor Christopher Carduff about William Maxwell (Part Two) (PDF, 100 KB)
In the works included in this second volume of Maxwell's collected writings, William Maxwell draws the reader close with narratives that blur the line dividing memoir and fiction. While he continues to explore his signature subject matter–one boy's life in small-town Illinois–he also broadens his canvas to depict scenes from adult experience. His protagonists include a young American intoxicated by postwar France, a middle-aged New Yorker tending the illusion of family happiness like a pot of African violets, an old man haunted by shame and loss and regret. His voice, always one of the wisest and kindest in American fiction, now becomes also one of the most intimate, a quiet Midwestern voice that communicates the melancholy joy of being alive and of seeing things exactly as they are.
The Château (1961) is a story of innocence–innocence rebuffed but sometimes also rewarded with the return of affection and wonder. The setting is France in 1948, the place and its people still recovering from the German occupation. A newlywed American couple spends two weeks in the Loire Valley at the château of Mme Viénnot, an impoverished aristocrat whose actions and motivations are inscrutable to her paying guests. These young Americans are anything but ugly. They are earnest and generous, misunderstood and misunderstanding, and, like their hostess, exquisitely vulnerable.
So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) is an Old Testament tragedy played out on the Illinois prairie. It is told by a witness to this tragedy's devastation–an old man much like Maxwell who, some 60 years after the murderous events he describes, struggles to forgive his failure to reach out to the survivors. Part autobiographical memoir, part imaginative re-creation of a crime of passion, it is unique in form and, in the words of Charles Baxter, "an unobtrusively perfect example of literary art."
In these two works Maxwell reaches the summit of his art as a novelist, but he is no less a master when he takes up shorter forms. All his best short stories are collected here, including "Over by the River" and "The Thistles in Sweden," two classic evocations of New York City life, and the complete contents of Billie Dyer (1992), a companion volume to So Long, See You Tomorrow collecting seven fictionalized portraits of figures from Maxwell's youth. The volume concludes with 40 delightful "improvisations"–fairy tales that Maxwell wrote mainly to entertain his wife–and the essay "Nearing Ninety" (1997), his moving valediction to a lifetime of reading and storytelling.
Christopher Carduff, editor, is a longtime publishing professional who collaborated with William Maxwell on several of his later projects. His edition of William Maxwell's early novels and stories is also available from The Library of America.
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