Posts Tagged ‘youth’

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – Review

June 3, 2010

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.

all that I see are stars

June 12, 2009

Going for a walk in the yard tonight, it is something that I have done for the past fifteen years of my life, give or take a few years. We have around three acres with duel rows of pine trees along the boundary of most of it. On two sides it borders roads – one paved, one gravel – and is bordered on the third by a field. The yard is a triangle, though I’m not sure what kind.

I take these walks and the night is usually pretty quiet. The wind blows. Trees rub and mutter against each other. The occasional cars goes by, its engine and the rumble of its tires against the pavement building, peaking, receding.

Overhead, far enough out in the yard, you’re effectively walking in shadow and the stars decide they can move from the safety of their depths and wink from the reaches of their existence.

Ten years ago I looked at the stars differently. They were beacons of the possible. I would look at the stars and think of speeches made by Kennedy’s in the 60s. The night sky was a reflection of a belief that life held limitless possibilities.

Walking around the yard tonight, I appreciate the beauty more. The feel of the breeze, cool, slipping across my face like lingering hands of a teen love. The smell of the pines of the grass and of the night air itself which just feels cleaner and smoother than the air of the day. Underfoot, the grass gives and is damp with the beginnings of the morning dew.

But the sky now feels like what might have been.

I had once dreamed of actually seeing the moon, setting foot on it. Maybe even seeing mars. I know now that neither will happen for me.

I dreamed of wealth, something I am also certain will not happen and which I’m also not entirely certain I would be able to handle anyway.

I dreamed that the world would just make sense at some point. That life would make sense.

Now it is more confusing than it was then and I see less point to it. Now it might be worse because I’m not longer riding the emotional highs of puberty so that even though I thought life was shit for long stretches of time, I was also too deliriously high on it to accept it.

Now whatever depressions I slip into I never dip too low but I also never rise too high. Life is.And I haven’t made myself okay with this yet.

Still, I love the stars. I love the night air in the country. I love just going for a quiet walk alone. In the end, maybe that’s the real essence of life. Finding what yuo like and love and being happy with that.