As a fiction editor at The New Yorker for 40 years, William Maxwell polished the short stories of John Cheever, Eudora Welty and John Updike. The precise language that marks their fiction distinguishes his own on view in this impeccable collection of stories.
Maxwell was born in Illinois in 1908, and most of his fiction draws upon childhood memories, rendered with neither nostalgia nor sentiment. In "The Front and the Back Parts of the House," the departure of the family cook just before his mother's death allows Maxwell to portray racial divisions of the day. In "The Man in the Moon," an uncle disdained by the family for passing forged checks becomes a sympathetic man. By reserving judgment, Maxwell shows understanding others have withheld.
The drama in these stories can be as simple as a couple's search for the perfect dinner at the end of a vacation in France, as subtle as a family's daily life in Manhattan or as mysterious as the 21 "improvisations" that close this collection. Like the young man in "The Patterns of Love," Maxwell sees the invisible "tracks" people leave behind, traces of their love and dependency, and he deftly captures their complexity. (Knopf, $25)