Thursday, 4 July 2013

Vintage Books: So Long See You Tomorrow

Well, things are looking up quite a bit this week compared to last. The animals have all been on their poison antidote of Vitamin K and everyone is cooperating. It is as if they know they need to take these giant tablets and though the cats hiss at me it they do manage to swallow these things.

This week was our First Monday night of the month Book Group meeting at Fullers Bookshop.  It is a small group, usually of 6 people but I enjoy the size.  We sit in the closed cafe in the evening at the book store and discuss the books chosen for us by the group facilitator Ali.  I enjoy being in the shop after hours where I can smell all the books and walk quietly around looking at everything.

Ali always has the kettle on, an assortment of teas on the table and a very large Kit Kat bar to share on a plate. It is enough.

The book So Long, See you Tomorrow by William Maxwell is a very short book.  It is only 153 pages but there is so much within it could have been 300 pages.

William Maxwell was an author I was not familiar with but I would certainly read more of his books, especially his short stories and another one that has similar themes called They Came Like Swallows.

Mr. Maxwell was born in 1908 in Illinois, USA. In 1918 his mother died in the flu epidemic that swept the country.  This event never left his life or his writing and many themes of loss permeate much of his writing.

This book was published in 1980 (happily I can add it to my Century of Books challenge.)  There is a very useful introduction to the story and author by Ann Patchett that everyone in the group enjoyed. It helped give insight into the story that was to follow.

The story is narrated by the son of Lloyd Wilson.  We learn in the first page that Lloyd Wilson is milking the cows on the farm one morning when he is shot and killed whilst sitting on his milking stool.  We don't know who murdered him but as the story slowly unfolds this becomes clear.

The story isn't so much about the murder itself but the ramifications of this man's death.

The son (narrator) is never identified by name.  The book has two families that run parallel to each other. It is also told in flashbacks. When we begin the narrator is in his 70's.  He writes in first person when referring to himself and third person when referring to the rest of the characters.

The narrator's son, I will call him the "boy," loses his mother at a young age. Everything changes in his world. His father marries again several years later but this isn't as successful as the family would like.

The second family is comprised of Clarence (father), Fern (his wife) and their son Cletus.  Cletus and the "boy" become friends and their lives intersect throughout the novel.

The themes reinforce that everyone has their own story and if something significant happens in one's life, especially if it is a tragic event, it will stay with you throughout your life.  Not only in memory but in the entire way life is shaped towards others and in your response to events.  It is a story of betrayal.

Lloyd Wilson and Clarence were the very best of friends anyone could be. What happens in this story makes that fact all the more tragic.  Due to one event everyone in the small community, their family, their friends, their livelihood are all heavily impacted.

William Maxwell's writing is beautiful.  I think some of it is the most beautiful prose I have read anywhere in a long time.  The book is tightly edited but this would no doubt be because Mr. Maxwell worked for 40 years as the Editor of New Yorker magazine.

The only thing I didn't like about his writing was the female characters did not seem to be as well defined as the male characters.  It was as though they were shadows around the edges, the catalyst for some of the events but the men were incredibly clear.  I would recognise them if they walked up to me.

The story begins quickly, the circumstances and events set out and nothing is lost.  The reader certainly finds out how one act can have consequences that continue to be with the characters through their life.

I loved this book.  It isn't the happiest book on earth but I didn't feel sentimental or wiped out by it.  I enjoyed reading all of the words on the pages.  His thoughts will stay with me for a long time.

The narrator loved to read as a child and there is a wonderful passage about reading a book.

"When I got home from school I did what I had always done, which was to read, curled up in the window seat in the library or lying flat on my back on the floor with my feet in a chair, in the darkest corner I could find. The house was full of places to read that fitted me like a glove, and I read the same books over and over. Children tend to derive comfort and support from the totally familiar- an umbrella stand, a glass ashtray backed with brightly coloured cigar bands, the fire tongs, anything. With the help of these and other commonplace objects- with the help also of the two big elm trees that shaded the house from the heat of the sun, and the trumpet vine by the back door, and the white lilac bush by the dining room window, and the comfortable wicker porch furniture and the porch swing that contributed its the sounds of the summer night- I got from one day to the next."

I would be interested if others have read this and if so what they thought of it.  I look forward to crossing this author's path again sometime.


  1. I only know Maxwell's name from reading about The New Yorker, I don't think I've ever read anything of his. This sounds like an amazing book. Your book group also sounds wonderful! and I'm glad to hear that the cats & dogs are still recovering (I do know the pain of medicating cats).

    1. It is a very good book. I was just impressed about how complex the book was for so few pages. It isn't a story you'd forget anytime soon. (my opinion anyway).
      Medicating cats? hahahahahahahaaa- especially when totally wrapped in a towel and their head sticking out of the top. They're forgiving souls though.

  2. Love the penguin, as always! I also love Maxwell's writing - They Came Like Swallows is even better (and the woman is deliberately shadowy in that one.) But my favourite book by him is his letters to/from Sylvia Townsend Warner.

  3. I will see what the library has in stock as I know they have several of his books. I can't get this book out of my mind so would enjoy exploring the others. Enjoy your upcoming weekend.

  4. I've been meaning to read Maxwell for quite some time. This sounds like a perfect place to start since I love Ann Patchett, too... think I'll suggest it to my book club in the fall.

    1. Hi JoAnn- This is a good selection for a book group as there is quite a bit in it to discuss. If your book group does do it I'd love to hear what they think of it. Enjoy your weekend.


I love comments. I promise to try very hard to reply to any message left.