October 18, 2020 by Aimee Bender
“William Maxwell's my favorite North American writer, I think… There were a lot of writers that I found in 'The New Yorker' in the 50s who wrote about the same type of material I did - about emotions and places.” (Alice Munro interview)
How he makes transparent his project of imagining on p. 56, the fictional empathic leap: “the reader… must imagine a deck of cards spread out face down on a table…”
“But first I need to invent a dog…” Maxwell, who can appear so modest on the page, is also so inventive, so free! Seems he gives himself permission to do whatever needed to get at the core of the material.
(It’s what got me into the book initially, my trusted friend in grad school saying, ‘he uses the POV of a dog,’ which I found startling.) So many incredible lines as we meet her: “she has made him a present of herself…”
(And the hawk, too! POV wide and inclusive.) Even the objects in the kitchen get their due… “Let us consider the kitchen the dog is not allowed into…. The woodbox, the sink, the comb…”
Cletus overhearing Colonel Dowling’s proprietary talk of the fields, his child radar alert and his internal pushback on their stuck socio-economic role in the town.
These descriptions of Aunt Jenny have a freshness in the way the verbs and objects function—better grammarians can explain? “…whose teeth spent the night in a glass of water….”
This time with Aunt Jenny and the house and handwashing and ventilations then funnels into info on the Smiths and their marital unrest as overheard by Cletus. The paragraphs build scene, add texture, land on a reveal. Then: back to handwashing.
“Other people, with nothing at stake, see that there is a look of sadness about her…” We don’t go inside Fern’s experience but others spot it, can report to us what Clarence can’t see.