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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


 

When fame comes too early (Continued)

Joyce must have been back from her first and only year at Yale when I saw her accidentally through her bedroom window in the early 1970s. At age 18 she looked 12. A couple of months earlier she had blown us all away with a cover brilliant essay in the New York Times Magazine. She was the sudden darling of the post-Boomer generation. That’s when reclusive writer J. D. Salinger wrote to her from Cornish, NH. Joyce later moved in with the 53-year old novelist. Her father, as I recall, was enraged. He was broken hearted. Salinger was the same age he had been when Joyce was born. He was proud of her writing and he was jealous of her notoriety.

 

UNH_Prof_Max_Maynard_1949I graduated from college in 1973, and when Max learned that I was taking summer courses at Oxford in England, he handed me his address on a slip of paper. He too was escaping to England. He was 70. His teaching career was over. His marriage was over too. His wife Fredelle, a successful magazine editor at Redbook and 20 years his junior had finally thrown in the towel. She was also publishing a new book. Their daughter Joyce was publishing her first bestseller that year. Max, who craved fame almost as much as vodka, was in hell, but he stood like a statue as we spoke, curled his lower lip, handed me a drink, and shook my hand farewell.

 

When my Oxford course ended, I had two weeks to spare before returning to New Hampshire. I took a bus to Max's place in East Grinstead, England. Again the warm handshake, the drink, and the curled lip. He was staying in a large rented country house with a garden and chicken pen.

We drank vodka and he told me about his days as a cowboy, his childhood in Western Canada, his painting. We compared lives – his seven decades and my two. We drank more. Finally, he talked of his daughter Joyce, now tabloid-famous for her relationship with Salinger. Max was morose, fearful for his daughter amid instant fame, lost in his own lifelong quest for recognition. He was painting again and his paintings filled the rented house.

"We were meant to work our way up slowly," he told me referring again to Joyce, "Not that fast." He searched in the sink for two clean plates among the piles of dirty dishware. We ate vegetables fresh from the English garden. He made an omelet from the eggs we found in the henhouse. He refreshed our drinks. He led me out to a wooded area behind the house and pointed out the "Pooh tree" where writer A. A. Milne’s son Christopher used to play. But the topic always returned to his teen-aged daughter.

"I want to visit her," he said at last, "but she won't have me. I would give up everything, even my painting, and fly back there in a minute. I'd move in and simply tutor her, help her take all this success slowly."

Just before Max fell, he took my hand in his. He had confessed, moments before, that he loved Joyce. "I don't want to see her fall from grace," he said. "I don't want to see her hurt."

 

CONTINUE MAX MAYNARD / Robinson


 

The Day Max Fell (continued)

I have had one paranormal moment in my life. This was it. I managed to drag the conversation away from his daughter and back to our shared love of literature. I confessed to Max that I too wanted to write. Max assured me that I would, adding that the two of us were, in some way, deeply connected. What we were was deeply drunk.

"You are me," Max said and his eyes were liquid and his lip hung down. "We are one."

It was a weird thing to say, which is probably why I remember it so vividly. I had an awful feeling when Max left the kitchen and wobbled toward the stairway that led up to the bathroom. I offered to steady him, but he would not have it. The statue was turning back to clay, and just as he reached the landing halfway up, I heard what I had fully expected to hear. I knew he would fall. There was a stumble, a small sound somewhere between a curse and a yelp. There was the sickening sound of a man striking the floor, then a soft moan.

The details are largely gone from here as happens when a person slips into shock. When I think of Max at the bottom of the stairs I see Bobby Kennedy in a dark pool of blood. I see a stunned red statue staring at me, then at the ceiling, his eyelids fluttering. I had then no idea a man contains so much blood and that it was so warm. I remember lifting Max’s head. I remember swearing at him.

"If you die, you bastard," I screamed. "I’ll kill you!"

This line seemed to amuse Max, who opened his eyes a little and smiled weakly. He mumbled something, perhaps some poetic last words, but I missed them. Then his head lolled.

I ran out into the front yard yelling for help. Running back indoors, I picked up the telephone and when the operator asked where I was I cried – "I don’t know! Some town in England!"

I fumbled in my pockets, now sticky with blood, searching for a slip of paper with the address. The operator told me to stay calm and leave the phone off the hook and they would find me. They did.

Max gripped my hand in the ambulance all the way to the hospital. That was, the medic said, a good sign. He refused to let me loose as the doctor stitched the gash in his white-haired skull. He held on until someone pried us apart. Someone else, the police I think, returned me to what looked like a murder scene. My clothes were covered in blood.

I had known without question that Max was going to fall. Now he was going to die. A truth beyond explanation had zapped between us. I was him for that millisecond. He was me. That left one too many of us. At least that is what I thought Max was thinking as he hurled himself down the landing in a desperate farewell act. If I had not appeared in England that day, I told myself, he would never have fallen.

Or maybe, had I not appeared that day, Max might have fallen alone. Perhaps I was his savior, or perhaps, irrelevant. These thoughts swirled around my brain as I washed an acre of blood from the hallway floor. They are swirling there still, set off this time by Mr. Salinger’s recent demise. It’s six degrees of separation, I guess – two stories intertwined by a woman I never quite met.

Three days later, his head still bandaged like a wounded warrior, Max Maynard stole someone's bicycle and rode from the hospital to the rented house where I was tending to the chickens and living off garden vegetables. He made himself a drink and settled back to painting. We never spoke about the accident. I came home.

For decades Joyce Maynard never wrote about her affair with Salinger and I never wrote about my visit with her father. Now both stories are out, two tales of fallen heroes. You can guess which one made it into the New York Times. Poor Max, poor me.

I never knew him as a bad parent, only as a great English teacher who longed to paint. Max died years later in a home for the elderly in Victoria, Canada. Before then, he rose once more. He returned at the end to western California where he had first learned to paint with Emily Carr, to love beauty and to drink without reservation.

Max Maynard painted again among his favorite landscapes. He finally exhibited in galleries and saw some recognition in his native land. He tried to get sober. Stiffened by arthritis, he must have looked more and more like a stern white statue. But inside that frozen shape, I can attest, even as he fell, his heart soared.

 

 

 

Copyright ©1978 - present by J.Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. Robinson is editor and owner of SeacoastNH.com, the history web site. He is the author of numerous history books for adults and children including Striking Back: The Fight to End Child Labor Exploitation

 

 

 

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