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The Fall and Rise of 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

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