Monday, April 07, 2008

It will, indeed.

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 2, Number 4

William Maxwell

I saw this book on the sidebar of January One, quite a while ago, and thought it looked interesting. This is because I routinely judge books by their covers.

I asked at the local bookshop about the title, and was told that they could try to get it in, but they probably would not succeed. I said "Don't bother, then, since I don't even know if I want to read it". Sadly, their customer service was too good and a few months later the phone rang: hey presto! they had it. The book was waiting for me to pick it up.

The problem with this particular store is that they have a "restocking charge" for special orders that are not wanted after all. I stood in the shop, turning the paperback over and over in my hand, repeatedly glancing at the $23 price tag, trying to decide whether to submit to the restocking charge, try to get out of it by shifting blame onto them for ordering it, or suck it up and take the chance on the unknown book, by an unknown author. After five minutes or so my mother, exasperated, grabbed the book and threw it on the counter, cast me a fulminating glance, and bought it for me.

(Thanks Mum!)

The story is set in small-town Illinois, 1912, and is primarily concerned with events in and around a small family during one year. It's a novel of characters, really - the plot events are only secondary to the central conflicts. I like this kind of book very much. It's so very interesting to witness and dissect humanity in all its pathos.

The beginning is quite promising. The opening scene is one between husband and wife, behind their closed bedroom door shortly before an extended family party. Their conversation is intimate, but uneasy. I found myself taking sides right away. This was strange - usually it takes me a few chapters to get to know characters, to understand their motivations and to care about their fate. Time Will Darken It hooked me in right at the start.

The book is strongly visual. It seems to me that writers of that era (this one was published in 1948) spent a lot of attention, time and words on the scene: I often notice that when reading a novel from the mid-20th century, I'm left with a strong sensory impression. When you're reading Time Will Darken It, you can see the prairie grass, feel the shimmering heat, hear the step on the stairs. If I ever found myself in whichever midwest town inspired Draperville, I should recognise it right away.

From the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a certain book. Then, with the turn of one particular page, I found that I was reading a different one entirely. It's like when you are on the lake in August, just off the beach where women are chatting and children playing, lying on an air mattress with your fingers trailing in the water. Eyes are closed against the sun, sand drying on your knees, the breeze drifts you along in an endless moment of warmth. All of a sudden you come back to yourself, realise the voices have faded away and the wind has picked up. You open your eyes to find you've drifted all the way out past the bay and now you're right over the deep, black, cool water and you've maybe got an unpleasant swim ahead of you.

I like sudden plunges into shocking cold. I like feet of clay that eventually crumble. I like the fly in the ointment, the twist in the tale.

And I think I'm going to be ordering some more William Maxwell books.


Jo said...

Ooh! Another one to add to my list. Hmm. Oddly enough, my library has a biography of his and a book of literary criticism based on his works... but no actual books.

Dave Hingsburger said...

A fulminating glance ... oh my. Another great review ... I love discovering books by accident ... coming upon them by chance rather than design. I imagine that one day I'll be reading a book by this woman named Shannon ... and I'll wonder why her editor didn't question the use of the word 'fulminating' but I'll keep on reading nonetheless.

Shan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shan said...

Whaddya mean? What's wrong with my use of the word "fulminating"?

You've obviously never been incinerated by a glance from my mother.

ful·mi·nate (flm-nt, fl-)
v. ful·mi·nat·ed, ful·mi·nat·ing, ful·mi·nates
1. To issue a thunderous verbal attack or denunciation: fulminated against political chicanery.
2. To explode or detonate.
1. To issue (a denunciation, for example) thunderously.
2. To cause to explode.
An explosive salt of fulminic acid, especially fulminate of mercury.


[Middle English fulminaten, from Latin fulminre, fulmint-, to strike with lightning

lizbon said...

Nice! And I was just deciding whether to swim today.

kate said...


Dave Hingsburger said...

Um, Shan, dearest, I know what fulminating means. Really, I do. And as for glances that draw blood, my mother calls Count Dracula, "that amateur in a cape" but fulminating is just a word, forgive me, that's a bit over the top don't cha think? I've editted a few books in my day (helping young authors get published, my way of giving back) and I'd never let 'fulminating' slip by but maybe that's just me. What say you all?

By the way were you fulminating when you wrote 'whaddya mean?' I really do hope you are smiling through this interchange because I am.

Shan said...

No, no, you are entitled to take exception to 'fulminating'. I believe experience trumps a novice's love of hyperbole.

kate said...

Since he asked .... I'll throw in my 2 cents.

First off, any mother's glance can be fulminating. Oh indeed. (Maybe it's a mother / daughter thing.)

Second off, in this case it suits both Shan's language and story-telling style. I can easily visualize the glance with her description. As an editor (which I happen to be) I'd let it stand.

Anonymous said...

Shannon, As you mom's younger brother, I always thought those fulminating glasses were the need for corrective lenses. Silly me.

Stace' said...

1 question...

Did the book make you cry?

Shan said...

Stace, the book didn't make me cry. It made me uneasy.

Tabatha said...

My friend, I enjoy the way you write. You need to write your book. Do you have an idea in mind?

You make me want to read these books that you review.