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This early novel from William Maxwell, longtime fiction editor extraordinaire of the New Yorker, is a quiet gem with perhaps the saddest, wisest, most profoundly perfect ending I’ve ever encountered.
The novel takes place in 1912 in a sleepy, small (really small) Illinois town—a setting Maxwell knew intimately. At the center of the novel are Austin King and his family, but the town is also populated with a cast of colorful minor characters who provide humor, charm and conflict, and for whom Maxwell clearly has a deep fondness, foibles and all. Austin tries always to act honorably, to do no harm, but when a visit from his Mississippi foster family brings conflict to the surface, Austin realizes how subjective doing the “right thing” is, and that even the best of intentions can have devastating consequences.
The marvel of Maxwell’s novel is in his quiet empathetic prose, his fascination with the seemingly harmless actions, words and gestures that can produce hurt and pain in others. I simply don’t know how Maxwell manages to capture the complexity of human interactions, particularly of marriage, with such graceful simplicity and power. Maxwell is my sad, compassionate and totally wise god of fiction.— From Jeanne's Picks
William Maxwell was born in 1908, in Lincoln, Illinois. When he was fourteen his family moved to Chicago and he continues his education there and at the University of Illinois. After a year of graduate work at Harvard he went back to Urbana and taught freshman composition, and then turned to writing. He has published six novels, three collections of literary essays and reviews, and a book for children. For forty years he was a fiction editor at The New Yorker. From 1969 to 1972 he was president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, He received the Brandeis Creative Arts Award Medal and, for So Long, See You Tomorrow, the American Book Award and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died in 2000.