It’s an unfortunate reality that some of the best writers of the past century occupy a disgracefully small space, if any space at all, on the shelves of bookstores.
William Maxwell is one such writer. They Came Like Swallows is a vaguely autobiographical account of an American family’s tragic run-in with the great flu epidemic of 1918. It is masterfully written by a writer who is said to have had an impact on a host of other writers, most notably Nabokov, Updike, Salinger and Cheever.
Maxwell, who was the fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, is often hailed as a “writer’s writer”, and from reading They Came Like Swallows it’s not hard to see why. It is concise but never blunt, eloquent but never pretentious and tender but never sentimental.
In short, bookstores should be fined if they don’t have this magnificent writer on their shelves.