Chapters 1 and 2
October 15, 2020 by Aimee Bender
Hello, #APS people! What a true pleasure to read this book with you. This book that begins with a pistol shot. Chapter title and event. So it appears to be a kind of mystery. I find this so interesting—what it presents itself as and what it is.
Another thing that always strikes me is how clear the language is. These lived-in sentences. They feel like they have been cooked down, and it’s not surprising to me that this is a late-in-life book; he wrote it when he was 71.
Who was shot? Why? It’s full of drama about neighbors, but then why is it in first person? It has the quality, traditionally, of a third person story. And then the ear?! Like a serial killer movie all of a sudden.
“Something I was ashamed of…” dropped on page 6: a potent nugget of emotional suspense for us to hold onto.
And of course one of the reasons I picked this book is because it’s about a crucial loss during the pandemic 100 years ago. This loss mirroring Maxwell’s own of his mother, the primary shaping grief of his life.
Quote from his Paris Review interview that has stayed with me: “I meant So Long, See You Tomorrow to be the story of somebody else’s tragedy but the narrative weight is evenly distributed between the rifle shot on the first page and my mother’s absence…”
“Now I have nothing more to say about the death of my mother, I think, forever. But it was a motivating force in four books. If my mother turns up again I will be astonished. I may even tell her to go away. But I do not think it will be necessary.”–Maxwell
The walking with the father. I think back to War and Peace, when Natasha is caring for her mother after Petya dies, children and parents trying to stay afloat together. Here: “…he walked the floor and I walked with him, with my arm around his waist.”
“With the help also of the two big elm trees…” on p10–this list! How he dignifies the care of the small. I find it a useful reminder. What are the little things in the world you lean on (are leaning on now) to get you through?
“…who knows what oversensitive is, considering all there is to be sensitive to.” One can glimpse why Maxwell was such a beloved editor, a seer of writers.
Setting: Bootleggers, his father fishing, early 1920’s, a lot of White people in (somewhat) rural small town Illinois-- “a wan present” as they move with the stepmother to the rented house with the bedbugs, an interim space.