Billie Dyer and Other Stories

William Maxwell, Author
William Maxwell, Author Alfred A. Knopf $18 (119p) ISBN 978-0-679-40832-1
Reviewed on: 02/03/1992
Release date: 02/01/1992
Paperback - 117 pages - 978-0-452-26950-7
Paperback - 182 pages - 978-0-8161-5572-9
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Maxwell's essays, novels ( So Long, See You Tomorrow ) and stories have always been models of meticulous, unpretentious, crystal-clear language, and in the seven beautiful tales in this collection he again enriches his graceful prose with affecting candor and poignancy. As before, the experiences rendered here might be classed as memoirs, being reminiscences of real people in Maxwell's life, and fictional re-creations of what was or what might have been. They are pervaded by a recurrent theme: that is is impossible to recapture--or even to know--the past; and they convey a picture of a certain time and place: the small town of Lincoln, Ill., around the turn of the century, when Maxwell was young (he was born in 1908). The subject of race relations in a genteelly prejudiced community is evoked with delicacy in tales that deal with members of the black Dyer family. In the title story, Billie Dyer's life is testimony to his quiet determination to serve his people as a doctor; his sister Hattie, in ``The Front and the Back of the House,'' causes the narrator to realize that he has unwittingly destroyed her dignity. A sense of loss is also pervasive: the death of the narrator's mother when he was a boy; that of his father years later; and now, a cri de coeur: ``The view after 70 is breathtaking. What is lacking is someone, anyone , of the older generation to whom you can turn when you want to satisfy your curiosity about some detail of the landscape of the past.'' In Maxwell's hands, these details are rendered with haunting immediacy. (Feb. )
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