Monday 16 February 2015

So long, See you tomorrow by William Maxwell

The title hangs in the air. The ordinary is suddenly perilous, again. 'Whether they are part of home or home is part of them is not a question children are prepared to answer.'

I've read this novel about seven times, twice in the last two days, and each time I find new places to pause, new ways to read. A crime of passion in rural Illinois in the early 1920s is not a narrative whose summary would draw me in. But this is less about crime than the friendship of two boys, stopped in its fragile tracks, and the attempt of one of them, now a man in his sixties, to make amends. 'If I knew where Cletus Smith is right this minute, I would go and explain. Or try to.'

He circles the story, intricate as it becomes, more well-intended, then despairing. What the preacher should say. What the farm dog would say. What justice ever is. 'In any case, talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.' He tries one then another point of view, each choice, each change making it a lie each time.

'In the face of a deprivation so great, what is the use of asking him to go on being the boy he was. He might as well start life over again as some other boy instead. '

Circling till you tire and you have only the loss and the humanity left. You hope your friend is 'undestroyed by what was not his doing.' That is what you've tried to say, though now, as then, you fail to know how to understand, or weep, or make amends.

'Who knows what oversensitive is, considering all there is to be sensitive to.'

One of the astonishments of reading is how completely, especially on winter afternoons, you can inhabit another's mind, then move on with your day, go check the new frogspawn in the pond, and apparently forget, but not.

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