Here is a classic novel from one of our most honored writers - the author of such acclaimed works as So Long, See You Tomorrow and All the Days and Nights. The Folded Leaf is the serenely observed yet deeply moving story of two boys finding one another in the Midwest of the 1920s, when childhood lasted longer than it does today and even adults were more innocent of what life could bring.
©1945 William Maxwell (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"A subtle, sensitive, beautifully written story." (Time)
"A quite unconventional novel.... moving and absorbing." (Edmund Wilson)
I chose this book because Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) recommended it in an interview. It provides a sentimental view of Midwestern America (mostly Chicago and Champaign-Urbana) in the 1920s, viewed from the 1940s. The first half reminded me of early Scott Fitzgerald stories (Bernice Bobs her Hair) and Sinclair Lewis (Babbitt). Teenage boys in high school deal with their families and classmates and pretend to be more grown-up and sophisticated than they are. Two boys, Limey and Spud, opposites in every way, become super-close friends. A girl comes between them, sort of.
But the second half becomes melodramatic and banal. Limey and Spud follow different routes in college, testing their friendship. The girl remains fond of both. But Limey becomes weak and simpering, while Spud grows increasingly angry and a bit dense.
Are the young men lovers? Hard to say, as the novel reflects an age when that love really did not dare not speak its name. But it begins with a bunch of naked teenage boys playing water polo in the school pool, college boys share beds snuggling warmly and there is even a chaste lip-to-lip guy kiss. Secondary characters include a bachelor professor living with his party-loving mother and an affected antique dealer who runs a men's rooming house with his little dog. But despite all that, there is never a hint that any characters--male or female--actually have sex.
The book is fun as a historic artifact, and the first half is kind of charming. The narration was good, with nice choices for the voices of the various characters.
I was looking for an exemplary piece of fiction from "back then" when plots and character arcs were king. I had heard that Maxwell was an editor of great writers, so I felt "safe" that this would be a terrific read. But I found it boring. There is some suggestion of homosexual love between two friends, and that is handled beautifully in the early sections. Innocent friendship gone intimate and all that. By the end, it was messy and blatant. I am not sure about the importance of the so-called romance, but I am sure that the contrasts between the boys, their upbringing, their current situations were very important. A motherless boy is always good for great character and faulty conceptions of the world.
Maybe because of the time, the sexual relationship could not be more deftly illustrated; I get that. But it was thrown on thick at the end as if the writer wanted to make sure the reader "got it." The sentence about "not liking effeminate men" was the only thing definitely "effeminate" about that particular character.
Am I missing nuances here? I could go back and re-think some scenes and find ways to add homosexual behavior to some, but why? I think that as a book about growing boys, motherless children, poverty and academia, about Chicago and about adolescence, it is just dandy.
I would not recommend this for anyone else to read or listen to -- because it was BORING. The language was lovely, but not stunning. The sentences and the word choices were rather plain.
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