The Happiness of Getting It down Right: Letters of Frank O'Connor and William Maxwell, 1945-1966

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Overview

With 8 pages of photographs

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
O'Connor (the pen name of Michael O'Donovan, 1903-66) was a master of the modern short story, and the New Yorker published over 50 of his best. Maxwell, a published writer himself, served as O'Connor's editor, but, as these letters show, he was much more than an editor. As O'Connor's stories developed under the gentle prodding of Maxwell's suggestions, the two men and their families became deep and close friends throughout the last years of O'Connor's life. Conversely, O'Connor read Maxwell's work-in-progress and helped to center Maxwell's novel, The Chateau, from formless mass to final polished version. Although Maxwell was a consummate editor and deeply familiar with O'Connor's work, his many detailed letters are often not completely matched by answers from O'Connor here, and we end up learning far more about Maxwell and the publication of the New Yorker than we do about how the editing was reflected in O'Connor's stories. Still, this is a fascinating look at the art of editing and at literature at midcentury. For literary collections.Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Donna Seaman
The warm, witty, and productive correspondence between Frank O'Connor and William Maxwell began as simple business letters between a writer and his editor at "The New Yorker", but quickly evolved into a forum for vigorous discussions of the art of storytelling. That's because Maxwell, a fiction editor at "The New Yorker" for forty years, is also, like the late O'Connor, a master of the short story. This shared passion cemented their friendship and makes this volume interesting on many levels. Maxwell's letters, full of praise and tactful suggestions, reveal the delicate process of shaping a story for publication in that most finicky and influential of magazines. At one point, Maxwell advises his friend that although he loves a certain story, if O'Connor can't, or won't, change the final paragraph, "The New Yorker" won't publish it. O'Connor gets his chance to play critic when Maxwell sends him a manuscript of his novel in progress. Steinman, an O'Connor scholar, supplies the mortar between these intelligent, increasingly affectionate letters, offering just enough biographical commentary about each writer to hold it all together.
Kirkus Reviews
Charming correspondence between the Irish short-story writer and his editor at the New Yorker.

Over the course of their working relationship, O'Connor (190366) and Maxwell (born 1908) became close friends, and the chronologically arranged text narrates the deepening of their relationship. "Mr. O'Connor" and "Mr. Maxwell" give way by 1955 to "Frank" and "Bill," and in 1956 Maxwell makes the transition to "Michael," the name by which intimates addressed the writer, whose real name was Michael O'Donovan. (Most of the very few letters from the 1940s and early 1950s included here were exchanged with Gus Lobrano, who preceded Maxwell as O'Connor's New Yorker editor). Textual queries reveal the New Yorker's famously exacting editing process; indeed, it's slightly chilling, when O'Connor submits two stories in 1965 after a long dry spell, to read in Maxwell's rejection the blunt comment that "the characters do not have the breath of life in them." Since editor Steinman (English/Nassau Community College) does not provide plot synopses, the extremely specific editorial comments will primarily engage those who are very familiar with O'Connor's work. Much more accessible are the two men's warm accounts of family life. "Saturday I built a tree house for the children, and was as pleased as if I had written something," Maxwell writes in 1965; O'Connor bemoans in 1958 the fact that babies are so common in Dublin that his "glorious" infant daughter "can be paraded through all the principal streets without anyone saying as much as `What a pretty child!' " Also appealing are the correspondents' unabashed expressions of affection: "I want Bill Maxwell," O'Connor reports "wailing" to his wife in one letter, while Maxwell signs off in another as "Your friend who loves you."

Most readers will pick up this volume for its literary interest, but the human content is what makes it memorable.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679446590
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/21/1996
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.97 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction
Letters, 1945-1966 3
Postscripts 247
"Michael and Harriet" 257
"Em and Bill" 259
"Frank O'Connor and The New Yorker" 263
Works Cited 271
Index 277
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