I really missed the boat on this one – I’d never even heard of it or it’s author prior to reading it for discussion in one of my reading groups. Oh well – I’m glad to have got to it now. (I think I wasn’t reading all that much when the book was first published.)
The setting is Lincoln, Illinois in the 1920s and told from the perspective of an old man many years later – the landscape is lovingly and evocatively presented, there would be a nostalgic element to it if the story itself weren’t so compelling and thought provoking in its own way.
So Long, See You Tomorrow
by William Maxwell
1980/ 136 pages
rating: 8 / US fiction-metafictional bio?
Maxwell winds his way into the story, setting up an unnamed 1st person narrator in the frame story before getting into the main story which includes a murder. This narrator’s life is much like Maxwell’s, for what it’s worth.
It turns out that at about age 14 or so, Maxwell’s friend’s father is involved in the murder, but as a child at the time, our 1st person doesn’t quite understand what was going on – as an adult he tries to put the information together with very limited personal clues and he warns the reader that all or none of his version may be true. (sigh … how many books are fuzzy like this?)
Events described in a newspaper clipping are by their nature stripped of quite a lot of information so when we read about a murder which happened in a small town and even if we are acquainted with one of the people involved, we don’t, can’t, know all the circumstances. So, the question is, do we invent a story to suit ourselves? Probably, quite often, we do.
This is just such a story as told by that old, unnamed narrator, remembering the situation of Cletus Smith whom he knew briefly as a child and to whom he was rude or cruel or something and has never forgotten it.
The narrator tells us that he delves into his imagination to produce a tale based on that bit of newspaper clipping and community hearsay of an event which occurred decades prior. Of course Maxwell warns us not to believe everything, so we have either a very unreliable narrator, or a fiction not passing itself off as anything other than the product of his own imagination.
The themes abound. There’s memory, guilt, family, love, fidelity, truth, friendship, anguish, temptation and adultery, death, loss, grief, and more. The structure is a kind of literary theme in itself and there’s a certain amount of self-awareness to the authorship making it a kind of metafictional biography – . The unfinished house is symbolic
I loved the descriptions of the small midwestern town and countryside as well as the chapter toward the very end where the dog, Trixie is having problems. Maxwell writes beautifully.