Gregory Blake Smith’s staggeringly brilliant new novel luxuriates in those demarcations of time. It is an extraordinary demonstration of narrative dexterity. Moving up and down through the strata of history, Smith captures the ever-changing refractions of human desire ... Separately, their stories are captivating, flush with peril and sexual tension ... What’s even more remarkable are the chameleon shifts in tone and style as Smith jumps from story to story with perfect fidelity to each era. Open to any page at random, and you’ll know exactly where and when you are ... The cumulative effect of this carousel of differing voices is absolutely transporting. The novel grows richer as we hear echoes among their stories ... Looking up from this remarkable novel, one has an eerie sense of history as a process of continuous erasure and revision. You’ll start The Maze of Windermere with bewilderment, but you’ll close it in awe.
Imagine someone burrowing into the past a first time, then starting over again, then again and again — or, to change the metaphor, opening a telescope in successive nested sections. Each story is about courtship, sexual attraction and the moral choices people make when they love, or fail to love, one another. The 2011 story is clearly the principal one, although not necessarily the most engaging ... Smith’s ability to capture the character of the languages used in each of his historical periods is remarkable ... The different strands of the narrative are skillfully braided. Each is interrupted by the next at a salient moment, and each is strong enough that readers can forgive the omnibus ending, whose breathless melodrama feels out of sync with the rest of the novel, and whose struggle to highlight parallels and links between the stories becomes a bit ham-handed.
...[an] exquisite novel ... Neither the book’s expansive scope nor its historical breadth overwhelm the remarkably strong narrative voices that convey the intimacy and immediacy of the life within these pages ... Smith’s vibrant mix of beautiful writing, clarity of voices, flow of history and storytelling, and philosophical reflections had me slowing my pace to stretch out its pleasures.
All five of these stories unfold centuries apart but geographically on top of one another, which makes for a fun game of drawing connections between the five timelines ... The themes that resonate across the five narratives imbue the novel with grander meaning as a whole ... Unfortunately, the novel’s conclusion is somewhat unsatisfactory, and a couple of the individual narratives would benefit from a little more attention during the book’s convoluted final act. Nonetheless, with The Maze at Windermere, Smith says far more than 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'; he demonstrates that various forms of American prejudice and exclusion are so ingrained in our nation’s psyche that we will never find our way past them.
Though references to James’ work, particularly The Portrait of a Lady, abound, readers don’t have to be familiar with his novels to relish the well-differentiated voices and worlds or to enjoy the way the novel’s five story lines subtly shift and begin to merge. Each character’s story offers distorted but revealing reflections of the others’, allowing readers to witness the peeling back of layers of history as well as the ways character is shaped by the intersection of place and time.
Taken individually, each story is dramatic and captivating, but as the author makes ever-increasing connections among the stories and shuffles them all into one unbroken narrative, the novel becomes a moving meditation on love, race, class, and self-fulfillment in America across the centuries.
What seems overly complicated at first becomes quite compelling by the end, when the stories alternate in ever shorter flashes toward resolution—though, oddly, only one of them comes to what feels like a satisfying ending. The changing language, landscape, and mores of three centuries of American history are depicted with verisimilitude, highlighting what doesn't change at all: the aspirations and crimes of the human heart.