Read William Keepers Maxwell

“The older you get, the less courage you have.” —William Keepers Maxwell

I am in love with Maxwell’s writing. They Came Like Swallows (1937) is a reread for me. (And many thanks to my good friend Toni for introducing me to this lovely novel.) So Long, See You Tomorrow (1979) is a new read for me. Maxwell lived from 1908 to 2000 and was known for his work as fiction editor at The New Yorker.


Both novels feature an older brother with an amputated leg due to a carriage accident. Both have a mother who dies after giving birth during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Both novels feature a family with three boys. It seems that Maxwell’s writing is highly autobiographical (his mother died in the flu epidemic) and thematic.

They Came Like Swallows is a detailed meditation on the above ideas. So Long, See You Tomorrow picks up where the death of the mother leaves off and tells a new story, one of murder, jealousy, the past, and friendship. We learn about two families’ struggles with each other because of betrayal through the eyes of a boy, the boy whose mother died in the flu epidemic. I suspect that boy is a fictional version of Maxwell. 

I highly recommend Maxwell’s writing. It’s gorgeous. 

14 thoughts on “Read William Keepers Maxwell

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  1. The books sound great, but I take issue with his comment about losing courage with age. My experience is exactly the opposite. At 71, I am braver than at any time in my life.

    1. I love this! I am braver too than I was before. I think this particular quote is in relation to a young child becoming a teen. That time of life does seem to wreak havoc On our courage.

  2. I got “They Came Like Swallows” at the Goodwill and I’ve tried to read it several times. I like the writing, but it’s just so slow! I think I’ll probably finish it someday, though. Kudos for trying to raise awareness for a writer not many people seem to know about. 🙂

      1. I’m giving “They Came Like Swallows” another try. I only read one chapter last night and definitely didn’t get to where I was before, but I’ll probably finish it by tomorrow; it’s a pretty shot book. 🙂

  3. I grew up in the same small town (Lincoln, IL) as William Maxwell, but I know very little about him or his work. I’ve always meant to read these pieces but never have. The time is now! Thanks for this review. 🙂

    1. Oh, how cool! Does the town have a museum or site dedicated to him? The books are set in that town (if I remember correctly), so I suspect you’ll enjoy the nostalgia of reading about it. And yes, the time is now. His work is amazing.

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