The Writer as Illusionist: Uncollected & Unpublished Work

Nonpareil. Jan. 2024. 256p. ed. by Alec Wilkinson. ISBN 9781567927962. $28.95. LIT
Lovingly compiled and contextualized by journalist Alec Wilkinson, this work gathers a miscellany of uncollected and unpublished pieces written by Maxwell (1908–2000), longtime fiction editor at the New Yorker. Wilkinson’s introduction frames Maxwell as an autobiographical novelist, and sections devoted to his early years and meditations on his writing process display Maxwell’s careful consideration of how his own experiences were translated into fiction. Part II (“Notes and Remarks on Writing”) is the most engaging section of the book, as readers get a peek underneath the hood of Maxwell’s conception of his craft. When describing the dangers of autobiographical fiction, he explains, “Because the autobiographical writer is unsparing with himself he feels that this earns him the right to treat candidly of others.” Part III begins with a memorable and lengthy profile of Robert Louis Stevenson and the shifting sensibilities of those that form the literary canon, while the final section focuses on Maxwell’s private life.
VERDICT A guaranteed delight for fans of Maxwell’s and New Yorker–style writing, but may be a bit too fragmented for neophytes.
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