The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell

tfl3(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Though no classic of “gay fiction” (although it will certainly appeal to gay readers. Spud and Lymie are physically affectionate, going so far as to spend almost their entire college life sleeping in the same bed.), “The Folded Leaf” tells about the intensely intimate, innocuously physical, yet almost entirely platonic relationship between two boys who don’t quite fit in with the crowd and who grow up to be very different men.

In the suburbs of Chicago in the 1920s, two boys initiate an unusual friendship: Lymie Peters, a skinny and somewhat clumsy boy who always gets good grades, and newcomer Spud Latham, a star athlete and mediocre student. Spud accepts Lymie’s devotion without questioning it, but once high school ends and the boys enter college, tensions begin to arise between them. Lymie is the first to meet Sally Forbes, but she will fall in love with Spud, and this will mark the beginning of the rift between them. But this rupture will be more than Lymie can bear. William Maxwell provides the reader with a moving portrayal of adolescence and the shift from youth into adulthood.

tflLymie Peters is the ectomorphic and studious introvert who meets Spud Latham, a dim yet muscular teenager who serves “as a kind of reminder of those ideal, almost abstract rules of proportion from which the human being, however faulty, is copied.” Latham is new in town–his father has lost his job, and he lives with his family in a cramped apartment–and he inexplicably gravitates towards Lymie. At first Lymie’s own feelings about Spud’s attentions are ambivalent: “He couldn’t help noticing the scales of fortune were tipped considerably in Spud’s favor, and resenting it.” What the boys have in common, though, is an undercurrent of barely suppressed fury that the people they know and the world around them aren’t the stuff of their daydreams.

tfl2Maxwell is compelling in his ability to transform what should be two excessive stereotypes into recognizable and believable flesh and blood. Even though Lymie almost sycophantically fawns over Spud (even serving as his towel boy at the gym), Spud in return offers emotional protection, social acceptance, and true friendship; in spite of Spud’s increasing popularity, it is a relationship of equals, and the pair is inseparable. Maxwell has re-created the ideal friendship, which many of us once had, if only briefly in our youth–or in our imaginations. Ultimately, however, as with any relationship this close, the snare of jealousy and the fear of being alone gradually introduce crises.

The crisis comes when a mutual acquaintance tells Lymie (and it’s never acknowledged as to whether it’s a true tale he tells) that Spud hates Lymie because of Sally’s friendship. Sensitive Lymie feels entirely betrayed and takes matters into his hands.

Quotations:

“But to live in the world at all is to be committed to some kind of a journey.”

“Very often, looking at Spud, he felt the desire which he sometimes had looking at statues–to put out his hand and touch some part of Spud, the intricate interlaced muscles of his side, or his shoulder blades, or his back, or his flat stomach, or the veins of his wrists, or his small pointed ears.

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