THE HAPPINESS OF GETTING IT DOWN RIGHT by Michael Steinman

THE HAPPINESS OF GETTING IT DOWN RIGHT

Letters of Frank O'Connor and William Maxwell, 1945-1966
edited by
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Charming correspondence between the Irish short-story writer and his editor at the New Yorker. Over the course of their working relationship, O'Connor (190366) and Maxwell (born 1908) became close friends, and the chronologically arranged text narrates the deepening of their relationship. ``Mr. O'Connor'' and ``Mr. Maxwell'' give way by 1955 to ``Frank'' and ``Bill,'' and in 1956 Maxwell makes the transition to ``Michael,'' the name by which intimates addressed the writer, whose real name was Michael O'Donovan. (Most of the very few letters from the 1940s and early 1950s included here were exchanged with Gus Lobrano, who preceded Maxwell as O'Connor's New Yorker editor). Textual queries reveal the New Yorker's famously exacting editing process; indeed, it's slightly chilling, when O'Connor submits two stories in 1965 after a long dry spell, to read in Maxwell's rejection the blunt comment that ``the characters do not have the breath of life in them.'' Since editor Steinman (English/Nassau Community College) does not provide plot synopses, the extremely specific editorial comments will primarily engage those who are very familiar with O'Connor's work. Much more accessible are the two men's warm accounts of family life. ``Saturday I built a tree house for the children, and was as pleased as if I had written something,'' Maxwell writes in 1965; O'Connor bemoans in 1958 the fact that babies are so common in Dublin that his ``glorious'' infant daughter ``can be paraded through all the principal streets without anyone saying as much as `What a pretty child!' '' Also appealing are the correspondents' unabashed expressions of affection: ``I want Bill Maxwell,'' O'Connor reports ``wailing'' to his wife in one letter, while Maxwell signs off in another as ``Your friend who loves you.'' Most readers will pick up this volume for its literary interest, but the human content is what makes it memorable.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44659-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996