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on 11 July 2009
The astonishing thing about this book is what is usually called universality. It is very much early twentieth century small town America yet it reaches out to what is common in all humanity. The style is a joy - the vivid description of place and season, exteriors and interiors of where people live and his eye for little significant details. These observations have their counterpart in characters, major and minor and from a full social range. Dialogue, dress and thought processes, not to mention the complexity of emotional life, are painstakingly presented. Maxwell only ever judges by implication. We are given information and left to our own conclusions So recognizable, even familiar, are the dilemmas and quirks of human interaction that we are led to conclusions about ourselves and those we live with and know. I admired the structure, the way the novel is built out of short, modest episodes which together become an edifice of monumental weight and dizzying complexity. From the start one feels in safe literary hands and trusts Maxwell to bring the reader to a satisfying, yet unsettling, place of arrival.
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on 14 February 2016
Two families, the one from the South visits the one in the North. America before the Great War, class divides, manners, family duty, the race question and, beneath the politeness, love is turbulent. I don’t know why I have never discovered William Maxwell’s books before now, but I will certainly seek out his others.
Draperville, Illinois, is the setting for this observation of manners which at times reminded me of Austen. Draperville is based on Maxwell’s own hometown of Lincoln, Illinois. In 1912, the Potter family from Mississippi visit the family of their foster son. Austin King, lawyer in Draperville, struggles to live up to the reputation of his father Judge King. The interaction and resulting effects of the King and Potter families over four weeks and three days, is detailed in a way reminiscent of Austen. And the detail is fascinating. The interaction between the generations, the expectations of the men and women, norms of behaviour and what happens when those norms are broken. This pre-war period teeters on the verge of war, and all the changes that will soon be brought about.
This is a wise book about relationships and how one’s own self-perspective, and that of your parents, changes over time and with experience. “…the history of one’s parents has to be pieced together from fragments, their motives and character guessed at, and the truth about them remains deeply buried, like a boulder that projects one small surface above the level of smooth lawn, and when you come to dig around it, proves to be too large ever to move, though each year’s frost forces it up a little higher.”
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on 3 October 2008
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.
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on 23 May 2002
From the jacket-blurb I had expected something quite mind-blowing from Time Will Darken It. I have never read any of Maxwell's work, so I did not have any prior knowledge of his style.
This novel, although not earth-shattering, is quietly ingtriguing. For me, it asks more questions than it answers, yet it is pleasurable to read. The author has a good command of the language, and the way in which he uses it bridges the sometimes yawning gap between US and UK English. He not only sets his plot in the period just before the First World War, he also seems to set his tone using the gentler and more precise language of that era. In many ways his plot construction and the domestic nature of the subject matter put me in mind of Jane Austen. He writes with a fine eye for detail, and seems to see things from the viewpoint of each individual character - although perhaps he chooses to leave us guessing about the true thoughts and motives of some of the central figures.
The way in which the narrative and the dialogue reveal the plot is - sometimes frustratingly - very lifelike, because there are times when the reader is treated to an almost complete grasp of the 'facts', and other times when - as in real life - we only have a dim understanding of feelings, motives and actions. An important letter is referred to, but never shown to the reader. A central character acts mysteriously but the reader is never given access to her innermost thoughts. Perhaps we are to understand that she herself does not know why she acts the way she does.
In summary, it's a book that is well worth reading - its testimony of the life led by middle-class Americans just after the turn of the century is fascinating, its language is sometimes almost poetically beautiful (I was reminded more than once of T S Eliot's 'Four Quartets') and its characterisation is intricate. I would now like a sequel please, Mr Maxwell, so that I can try to understand why some of the characters behaved as they did, and what were the consequences!
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on 18 August 2010
I bought the book because I was intrigued to see if the novel was as good as so many people claimed. It was just as good. I thought it was excellent, the sort of book I just couldn't put down. The writing just flowed. It is beautifully written, a delight.
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on 2 October 2013
This author was unknown to me previously, but now I want to read everything he wrote.

This period-piece is written with great human sympathy and insight, in prose which never jars, always surprises. And don't think you can anticipate the twists of the story-line, either, Maxwell is too original a writer to reward that kind of thinking. A very fine novel indeed.
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Constantly surprising, beautifully written, full of insight and wisdom
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on 9 July 2016
Well worth a read, good story line and follow up
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on 27 February 2016
Really good condition
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on 7 May 2011
Despite some loopy prose where Maxwell has tried (& failed) to get into the head of a pregnant woman, on the whole this book is brilliant on social relationships, secrecy and conventions. It has a compelling atmosphere & striking moments of shock.
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