First published in 1937, American author William Maxwell's brief novel 'They Came Like Swallows' is set in Illinois, at the end of the First World War, and focuses on the Morison family: James and his expectant wife Elizabeth, and their two sons, thirteen-year-old Robert and eight-year-old Bunny. Elizabeth is a devoted mother to her sons, recognizing and accepting the difference in their personalities: Robert, boisterous and adventurous who, as a small child, lost the lower part of one of his legs whilst clambering onto the back end of a carriage; and Bunny, a timid, sensitive child, who is young for his years and very dependent on his mother for comfort and security.
Told in three parts, this story begins from the view point of young Bunny, who succumbs to the Spanish Flu and becomes very ill, requiring even more of his mother's devoted care; the story continues from the perspective of Robert, who feels his mother is someone he must try to protect; and part three of the story is told from the viewpoint of James, who loves his wife dearly and thinks of her as the foundation on which his family rests, knowing that without her, life would become intolerable. When more than one member of the Morison family falls ill with the terrible flu virus, their lives are altered irrevocably, but to say more would spoil this brief, but warm and sensitive portrait of American family life. Beautifully observed and deftly-composed, this novella is one that is best enjoyed in one sitting, as the reader becomes slowly drawn into the intensity of the Morisons' lives and of the fate that befalls them.
3 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?