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The Outermost Dream: Literary Sketches

Overview

The Outermost Dream brings together essays and reviews by William Maxwell, one of America's foremost writers and editors. Maxwell chose deliberately to focus on biography, memoir, diaries, and correspondence when reviewing books: "what people said and did and wore and ate and hoped for and were afraid of, and in detail after often unimaginable detail they refresh our idea of existence and hold oblivion at arm's length." In reading his reviews, we are struck by Maxwell's skill in choosing the one particular, the ...

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Overview

The Outermost Dream brings together essays and reviews by William Maxwell, one of America's foremost writers and editors. Maxwell chose deliberately to focus on biography, memoir, diaries, and correspondence when reviewing books: "what people said and did and wore and ate and hoped for and were afraid of, and in detail after often unimaginable detail they refresh our idea of existence and hold oblivion at arm's length." In reading his reviews, we are struck by Maxwell's skill in choosing the one particular, the haunting moment, that further illuminates our understanding of the power of an individual life. His discernment is equally telling whether writing about literary luminaries such as Virginia Woolf, Lord Byron, E.B. White, Isak Dinesen, or delving into the diaries of an unknown Victorian curate with vivid dreams of murder and mayhem.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Maxwell writes with relish about all the quirks and quiddities of human lives, with warmth about the honorable things that men and women do, with regret for the rest.... On every page there is a quiet observation, made with deceptive ease, that will ravish the reader."—The Boston Globe

"In this wonderful volume we get Mr. Maxwell's clear prose, his magical narrative and the attractions of his quirky mind."—The New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Most of these 20 articles respond in some way to recently published biographies or collections of correspondence. But they seldom read like book reviews. As a practiced novelist, Maxwell finds an animating theme and telling quotes in each life story, creating rich, focused biographical essays. Although most of his subjects were writers themselves, he views them in their private words and deeds, not in their works. Whether he explores Lord Byron's debts, or the differences between Virginia Woolf's letters and her diary, or the success of Colette's last marriage, he shows his respect for the inner person. That is why his prose--so quietly informative--is also so full of drama.-- Donald Ray, Mercy Coll. Lib., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555972646
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Series: Rediscovery Ser.
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

William Maxwell worked with many celebrated writers as a longtime editor for the New Yorker. He is himself the author of several books of fiction, including They Came Like Swallows; The Folded Leaf; So Long, See You Tomorrow; and Time Will Darken It. Maxwell lives in New York City.

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