Reviewed by TONY BAER:


WILLIAM MAXWELL – So Long, See You Tomorrow. Serialized in The New Yorker, Oct 1, Oct 8 1979. Knopf, hardcover, 1980. Ballantine Books, paperback, 1981. Vintage, softcover, 1996, 2011. Included in Later novels and stories: the Chateau; So long, see you tomorrow; stories and improvisations, 1957-1999, Library of America, hardcover, 2008. National Book Award winner, finalist for the 1981 Pulitzer Prize.

   William Maxwell grew up in the 1910’s and 20’s in a small farming town in Illinois. With a mother dead of the Spanish Flu and his nose always stuck in a book, he had few friends.

   His one friend was a boy named Cletus. Cletus and William would play in the scaffolding of William’s unbuilt home. Until one fateful day.

   That day, Cletus’s dad murdered the man who’d been his dad’s best friend. But friend turned fiend when he started sleeping with his wife.

   Dad murdered the friend, the shot singing thru the prairie, then drowned himself in the swimming hole, tying a stone to his leg.

   William Maxwell never saw his friend Cletus again. But once.

   He saw him in high school. In Chicago.

   They locked eyes. But William turned away. And walked past.

   He never forgave himself for this act. And fifty-some-odd years later, he tried to write about it, to purge his guilt. He wrote the story. The story of Cletus and his father, his mother, and his father’s friend, his mother’s lover, and a murder.

   A murder that ripped a boy’s life asunder. That stole two fathers and a mother’s love. That left a boy alone. Without a friend to recognize him, in the halls of a Chicago high school in the 1920’s. And the guilt.


It’s a soft and wistful wisp of murder’s memory. It’s short and yet seems much longer. It lingers. Like life. It was good.