Review of So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
So Long, See You Tomorrow is gorgeous, heartbreaking, and feels timeless. I loved it.
My friend James mentioned this book as a favorite of his when we talked about reading and books on his Maybe I'm Amazed podcast last summer, and I recently sat down to read So Long, See You Tomorrow.
In Maxwell's slim but chock-full book, our narrator is trying to piece together the events surrounding the shooting of a man named Lloyd Wilson in his 1920s rural Illinois hometown of Franklin fifty years earlier, when the narrator was a young boy.
In doing so, he traces old memories and tracks down details from his childhood, reliving moments, piecing together information, and developing suppositions about the long-ago events. He does this while also diving into the imagined, robust details of life on two neighboring farms and within two inescapably connected families.
Decades after the events in question, our narrator continues to feel anguish about the role he may have played in adding to his playmate Cletus's potential anguish over his father's tragic actions. The now-elderly narrator lingers upon this issue even as he recognizes that a child--especially one only cursorily connected to the heart of the situation, as he was--could not truly have been culpable in any meaningful way, nor would he have had the power to significantly shift Cletus's situation. The childhood guilt he initially felt about this matter continues to be such a deep-seated and entrenched part of his thinking, it's heartbreaking.
The story and its voice felt reminiscent to me of a mix of Capote's In Cold Blood and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Maxwell's writing is lovely and poignant, and So Long, See You Tomorrow is gorgeously, painfully wrought. Maxwell explores loss, tragedy, the rich inner lives of children, the ripple effects of betrayal and fury, and the irresistible, never-ending contemplation of the past.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Maxwell wrote six novels and a memoir, Ancestors.
Much of his largely autobiographical fiction explored loss--he was haunted by losing his own mother when he was just ten--and was set in the Midwest.