With the publication of The Outermost Dream
, a collection of essays by William Maxwell, Graywolf Press's Rediscovery Series has saved from obscurity yet another literary jewel. Most of these pieces originally appeared in the New Yorker
, where Maxwell was a fiction editor for 40 years, on the occasion of the release of a biography, memoir, diary, or collection of correspondence by or about a noted (or not-so-noted) author. Maxwell brings such a stunning combination of intellect and passion to his subject matter that his essays (one can hardly call them mere book reviews) are, as Maxwell expects of great writing, astonishing. Each is a sharply focused miniature, allowing the reader to enter the world that Maxwell describes, whether it be that of a humble 19th-century curate-cum-diarist or the young V. S. Pritchett, who published his first work, a joke in the Paris Herald
, while working as a stock clerk for a photographic-plate manufacturer. It is a rare pleasure to find oneself in such capable hands.
From Publishers Weekly
Maxwell is noted both for his 40 years as a fiction editor at the New Yorker and for his own short stories and novels (including the American Book Award-winning So Long, See You Tomorrow ). However, as a reviewer, he has preferred nonfiction books that "tell what happened--what people said and did and wore and ate and hoped for and were afraid of, and in detail after often unimaginable detail . . . refresh our idea of existence and hold oblivion at arm's length." His 19 essays collected here discuss biographies, autobiographies, letters, diaries and memoirs, singling out such subjects as Colette's intense curiosity about the world and Byron's character as revealed in his financial accounts; Virginia Woolf's malicious tongue; and Giacometti's creative gloom. The "outermost dream" of the title refers to the published diary selections of the Reverend Francis Kilvert, an obscure 19th century English clergyman whose quiet life belied his startling dreams. Maxwell's scrupulously fair and gracefully written considerations of books offer a wealth of concise detail and an unerring sense of the influence of shaping events, patterns and character in life and literature.
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