This is such an exquisitely-written, wise, generous, satisfying novel that my only problem with it is that I know that whatever I read next is going to seem hollow/clunky by comparison ... writers of Maxwell's soaring, but unshowy, talent are rare indeed.
It starts with a good, decent man's reluctant decision to repay a family debt by having his Mississippi foster-cousins to stay on a extended visit ... a decision that over the next few months will shake his marriage, his career, even his grip on life to their foundations. The background to his small-town existence is perfectly drawn - and, just as in real life, other lives touch upon his, drastically or just in passing, seemingly unimportant events have huge repercussions, everything connects ... and just as in real life, sometimes we have to be content without knowing the full story. (What, for instance, is the real story of the Potters' marriage that drives Mrs Potter - whom we have dismissed as an empty-headed Southern matron - to reveal with such terrible self-knowledge, in appealing to her daughter not to leave home, that there is nobody in their household who is honest or brave or in any way dependable? But Maxwell makes you feel that every one of his characters has a novel in them; in Rachel, the black housekeeper attracted to violent men; in the lonely spinster neighbours; even in the man, a walk-on character, who passes hours with Austin King in a hospital waiting room.
Maxwell writes about the tragedy/loneliness of the human condition ... and yet he ends on a quietly optimistic note, that life will go on, that survival is not only for the fittest, that there will be some contentment in marriage and melding our lives together, even if not very much of it is what we had hoped for.
I finished this book wishing I could return, say in the the 1930s, and discover what had happened to everyone in the intervening years.