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The Fall and Rise of Max Maynard

Max_Maynard_detailHISTORY MATTERS

The recent death of New Hampshire author J.D. Salinger at age 91 set off a cascade of memories around the world. I have one too, but it is not about Holden Caulfield the narrator in Salinger’s classic novel Catcher in the Rye. My story goes down another road. (Continued below)

 

 

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I’m sure I read the shocking little red paperback too. We all did. But to be honest, I don’t recall being especially moved by the angst-ridden American anti-hero. The book didn’t make me want to shoot John Lennon or howl at the moon or kidnap Jodie Foster. I read the novel, and I moved on.

UNH English prof was Painter at Heart

 

max-maynardThe first time I saw New York Times writer Joyce Maynard, she was bouncing on her bed. I saw her through a second-story window in Durham, NH. It wasn't my fault. I was painting her family’s house.

Joyce Maynard, as we all know by now, had an affair with Mr. Salinger. She was a talented teenaged writer. He was a fifty-something hermit. Salinger admired Joyce’s writing in the Times and wrote to her back around the time I saw her jumping on the bed. She visited him and stayed for many months. You can catch all the details in her tell-all book. No need for me to go there.

This memory has been jumping in and out of my mind for decades. It leads, ultimately, to one of the most traumatic moments in my largely peaceful life. It isn't about Joyce, really, but about her father Max who was my professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Max Maynard was an amazing and tortured man. He was short and often grim. His face and body seemed chiseled from stone and he walked erect like a Roman statue set loose from its pedestal. When he smiled it was more of a grimace. His face squeezed together like Edward G. Robinson, he squinted, and his lower lip, pink and wet, curled downward when he smiled and when he frowned.

Max’s lectures on literature, to my mind, were raptures on the past, a past he seemed to know intimately. When he spoke of Cicero or Samuel Johnson, it was as if he had just returned from lunch with him. He drew masterful sketches on the chalkboard as he spoke and we gasped when he erased them. Max was a phenomenal teacher and an avowed heavy drinker. When I painted his house in the summer of my junior year, he would greet me in the garden, half in the bag, a glass of vodka in each hand. We drank and talked and talked and drank. Then I climbed ladders.

He never got beyond the rank of assistant professor at UNH. If you asked Max what he loved, he said he was really a painter. His house was filled with unsold landscapes. Born in India in 1903, he had lived and painted in Canada before World War II and was an associate of Emily Carr who is beloved in Victoria and British Columbia. Commercial fame eluded him. His Cubist-style images, drawn from his Calvinist heritage, won him few accolades outside of western Canada. My life, he told me wistfully, was just unfolding. His was nearly over.

 

CONTINUE MAX MAYNARD

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