Monday, November 15, 2010

William Maxwell

'In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contacted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o'clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour the friends and family he had invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.'
So begins William Maxwell's fine novel, TIME WILL DARKEN IT. Maxwell is probably best remembered as the fiction editor of THE NEW YORKER where for almost forty years he edited the work of a galaxy of writers, including John Updyke, Eudora Welty and many others. But he was a highly accomplished novelist in his own right. TIME WILL DARKEN IT is the first of his novels that I have read, but it won't be the last.
From this one mistake that Austin King makes from the best of motives flows a series of consequences that result in catastrophe. A depiction of small-town life, a dissection of a marriage, beautifully organised and described in the kind of detail that brings people and places to life, this is up there with some of the best. It is Chevhovian in its understanding of the compromises that people are driven to, and the ways in which lives can be ship-wrecked. The characters went on living for me at the end of the novel and I wanted to know what happened next. In fact, I just wanted it to go on and on.

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