Monday, May 5, 2008

The Maytrees

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard was originally published in 2007 and my hardcover copy is 216 pages long. The Maytrees took me much longer to read than a book normally takes me. You might ask, "Why?" I credit/blame this on Dillard's writing. Her use of language had me rereading sentences and whole passages simply for the mastery and beauty in the way she uses language. I found myself flagging way too many sentences to quote until I forced myself to stop trying to take note of every well crafted sentence and read the book.
This leaves me with a quandry. The plot and development of the characters is lacking in comparison to other books. I read that Dillard edited out 500 pages; perhaps that was too drastic. On the other hand the sparseness of the writing reflects the setting. This is a book where the writing itself will entrance some readers while others will be left cold. I'm rating The Maytrees a 4.

Synopsis from cover:
Toby Maytree first sees Lou Bigelow on her bicycle in postwar Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her laughter and loveliness catch his breath. Maytree is a Provincetown native, an educated poet of thirty. As he courts Lou, just out of college, her stillness draws him. Hands-off, he hides his serious wooing, and idly shows her his poems.

In spare, elegant prose, Dillard traces the Maytrees' decades of loving and longing. They live cheaply among the nonconformist artists and writers that the bare tip of Cape Cod attracts. Lou takes up painting. When their son Pete appears, their innocent Bohemian friend Deary helps care for him. But years later it is Deary who causes the town to talk.

In this moving novel, Dillard intimately depicts nature's vastness and nearness. She presents willed bonds of loyalty, friendship, and abiding love. Warm and hopeful, The Maytrees is the surprising capstone of Annie Dillard's original body of work.


"They acted in only two small events - three, if love counts. Falling in love, like having a baby, rubs against the current of our lives: separation, loss, and death. That is the joy of them." pg. 2

"What was she afraid of? Of her heartbeat, of his over-real eyes, of her breathing, everything." pg. 21

"After they married she learned to feel their skin as double-sided. They felt a pause. Theirs was too much feeling to push through the crack that led down to the dim world of time and stuff. That world was gone." pg. 32

"The process [house-moving] stimulated Maytree, and Lous, too - and children, and retired sailors, and off-duty coast gaurds, and neighbors - by its many routes to disaster." pg. 42

"Her mental energy and enduranced matched his. She neither competed nor rebelled. Her freedom strenghthened him, as did her immeasurable reserve." pg. 46

"He endorsed Edwin Arlington Robinson's view that anthologies preserved poems by pickling their corpses." pg. 55

"She did not know then that polishing this grudge would be her mother's lone project for the balance of her life." pg 58

"A woman's forgiveness weakened a man's arms and back. So did its sob sister, pity. It would not stand up to fight. Who could prevail against it? Conrad called pity a form of contempt." pg. 70

"Yet he never knew - connaitre, wissen - what she was in essence. On the Cape he had fancied her not quite of this world, Ariel asleep on the sand. Or was she of this earth, earthy?" pg 103

"After Maytree ran off, people imposed on her the unwelcome dignity they accord new widows or Nobel Prize winners. They blamed her for their own distance, fancying she caused their feeling by a vaunted opinion of herself." pg. 121

"She ignored whatever did not interest her. With those blows she opened her days like a pinata. A hundred freedoms fell on her. She hitched free years to her lifespan like a kite tail. Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time." pg 131-132

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