Troy Patterson
April 12, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

My Mentor: A Young Man's Friendship with William Maxwell

Current Status
In Season
Alec Wilkinson
Biography, Nonfiction

We gave it a B

”It is not my plan to write a literary biography,” Wilkinson notes near the beginning of his remembrance of William Maxwell—author of writer’s-writerly novels and editor, at The New Yorker, of such greats as Salinger, Updike, Cheever, and Eudora Welty. Instead, he delivers a hagiography of his ”most intimate friend” and ”alternative father,” making Maxwell seem less a human than a miracle—wise and handsome and generous, with a wife who was ”nearly always the most beautiful woman of any age in a room of other women.” The slim volume turns affecting only at its elegiac ending, an account of Maxwell’s final days, when the student’s affection for his teacher grew into a profound devotion, a feeling ”worn like a garment over a sadness that was part loneliness and part despair and anger at being deprived of the one man I loved.” B

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