‘With Reference To An Incident At A Bridge’ by William Maxwell

With Reference To An Incident At A Bridge by William Maxwell, 1984

The magic trick:

Turning a societal point into a personal one

We’re off to Illinois this week.

Maxwell takes us back to the Illinois of his childhood. It appears to be a lovely place. Of course, it’s also a very, very white place. Therein lies the conflict. Quickly we see that this ideal isn’t so ideal. A Russian Jewish family wanting their kid in the local Cub Scout troop is cause for concern.

But what’s neat about the story is it takes this larger societal conflict and personalizes it. Social flaws become the protagonist’s flaws too.

And that’s quite a trick on Maxwell’s part.

The selection:

At twelve I was considered old enough to join the Presbyterian church, and did. In Sunday school and church I recited, along with the rest of the congregation, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” That any part of this formal confession was not self-evident did not cross my mind, nor, I think, anyone else’s. We said it because it was true, and vice versa.

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