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See and Remember It: Maxwell and Buechner

March 24, 2013

Frederick Buechner, my latest literary obsession, deems William Maxwell one of America’s great underrated novelists. I’m less than smitten by Maxwell, if largely because reading him shows just why The New Yorker’s fiction section has been so dull so long: Maxwell imposed his aesthetic of workman-like gentle revelation on the magazine from 1936 until 1975 and surely well beyond.

But one can see what charmed Buechner. Compare this, from Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf, to that seagull passage from Buechner that I posted earlier:

“The great, universal problem is how to be always on a journey and yet see what you would see if it were only possible for you to stay home: a black cat in a garden, moving through iris blades behind a lilac bush. How to keep sufficiently detached and quiet inside so that when the cat in one spring reaches the top of the garden wall, turns down again, and disappears, you will see and remember it, and not be absorbed at that moment in the dryness of your hands.”


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