Love by Wiliam Maxwell, 1983
The magic trick:
Keeping the writing out of the story
There is an adage in sports about officiating that a good referee is an unnoticed referee. The game is about the players; don’t muck it up with controversial calls. Makes sense and the concept sometimes can extend into literature, I think.
Sometimes the best kind of writing is the writing where the reader doesn’t notice the writing. “Love” is an excellent example. There is nothing showy here in form or style. It’s just a simple story told by a man looking back on his favorite elementary-school teacher. She falls ill and the experience serves as a kind of end-of-the-innocence moment in the narrator’s childhood. But because the writing never gets in the way of the story, the reader is free to completely absorb the emotion. And that’s quite a trick on Maxwell’s part.
Propped up on pillows on a big double bed was our teacher, but so changed. Her arms were like sticks and all the life in her seemed concentrated in her eyes, which had dark circles around them and were enormous. She managed a flicker of recognition, but I was struck dumb by the fact that she didn’t seem glad to see us. She didn’t belong to us anymore. She belonged to her illness.