So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
It is always wonderful when a friend gives you the gift of discovering a new writer. Having just had my first encounter with William Maxwell, who died in 2000 at age 92, I’m now in the enviable position of knowing that another five novels, and several collections of essays and stories lie yet to be enjoyed in my future. My friend gave me So Long, See You Tomorrow, about a man reflecting on a single incident in his boyhood, which has haunted him for more than fifty years, and is one of the finest novels I’ve read in a long, long time. Maxwell understood how the emotional resonance of personal objects (a white enamel coffeepot, a cracked oilcloth, a comb hanging by a string…) can distill the difference between a house being mere planks and nails or being a home. He also offers an astute treatise on the challenges facing the memoirist, because “in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.” I always bristle when I read blurbs like “the subtlest of miniatures” or “a small, perfect novel,”on a book jacket, even though (forgive me, I know) I’ve used such phrases myself to describe estimable works of less than 200 pages long. Yet, it can’t be denied, despite agreeing with the fulsome praise given to Maxwell, there is something condescending about our persistence in aligning heft with importance. So Long, See You Tomorrow is a ‘big’ book, as big as Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping or Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower.