So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – Review

Washington Post Book Club says of Maxwell’s work that “few books are more convincing rebukes to the seemingly never-ending age of the memoir and all its attendant cults of authenticity” this is as good a way of entry as any into So Long, See You Tomorrow. From a single moment passing, in the hall of a new school, a friend made over one summer Maxwell unfurls  a long carpet of America.

From this moment, Maxwell talks about class, about social status, about how men and women interact with each other and the various types of power at play in every situation. Over the course of its slender 135 pages, So Long, See You Tomorrow is an unflinching, almost cruel examination of a moment that has clearly come to haunt a man throughout his life.

And it is such a small moment.

To transpose some of my personal feelings onto this, I want to say this is an argument for how important the little things are in life -especially in retrospect. Being kind to this once friend in a school hallway would have taken the smallest of acts, it would have taken a hello, a how are you. Though, as the narrator often laments, it’s not always as easy as it appears and even in his old age he wonders if he could have done anything different in that moment other than what he had done; if he would have the emotional and social dexterity to pull anything else off.

Going back over the book, So Long, See You Tomorrow is almost like a middle aged man’s equivalent of catcher in the Rye. The selfish melodramas that surrounded Caulfield’s thoughts are gone, replaced by a meloncholiac nostalgia and a horrible knowledge of the weight of happenstance and the weight of the burden of youth and the mistakes made.

This is a pretty uncritical blog entry. I haven’t been looking for themes explored in the work or tying them to other authors, other works.  There is a solitude to all of the characters that is numbing in its truth. Nearly everything that happens seems to come as an extension of a desperation to not be trapped within such solitude, to step out and make a connection, any connection with someone else. then there is the tragedy that this desperation can cause.  It’s strange, but the only time anyone seems to be truly happy in the novel, contend with the companionship they have found, is when the two boys are playing in the half finished home. There is a more feverish contentment between the adulterers, one where the woman reaps a horrible wrath on her husband for not giving her a divorce, but it lacks the ease of the relationship between the two boys, their lack of pretense, of shame.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I remember hear that loneliness is the death of all men and, in this story, loneliness seems to be slowly killing everyone and the need to escape it is the motivator for much of the action. Then, it is the narrators refusal to attempt to break solitude that causes him the most anguish in his life, remembering years later how he hadn’t been able to say hello, wondering if his once friend ever got over all that had happened to him.

I think there is probably more to say about the time of day when much of the story seems to take place. It feels as if much of it was during that time of day when the sun was either just rising or just starting to set, that time when light is odd and the world looks different. And that the most violent aspects of the book were always carried out under lamp light, light created by man. Really, though, it’s just a wonderful read. Maxwell’s book takes you places.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: