Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Maytrees

In prose as stark and bare as the landscape of Provincetown, Annie Dillard tells the life story of two young people who love and marry, befriend and betray, return and resolve.
From Annie Dillard dives headlong into the deep, unfathomable mystery of married love in this lyrical novel -- only the second of her long, distinguished career. Set largely on the windswept tip of Cape Cod amid rolling tides and drifting dunes, the story is simplicity itself: A man and woman meet in postwar Provincetown, fall in love, marry, and have a child. Years later, one leaves the other in a bewildering act of betrayal that tests but does not break their transcendent bond; later still, their lives intersect again in an unanticipated twist of fate.


Looking at the copy of The Maytrees sitting on my desk, one would think that every single page boasted a brightly colored Post-It flag...not quite, but almost. Dilliard's beautiful (and sometimes challenging) language begs to be read, flagged, reread, considered and, ultimately, consumed.

Some favorite passages:

p. 3 ~ For a long time they owned no car, no television when that came in, no insurance, no savings. Once a week they heard world news on the radio. They supported striking coal miners' families with cash. They loved their son, Pete, their only child. Between them they read about three hundred books a year. He read for facts, she for transport. Nothing about them was rich except their days swollen with time.

p. 58 ~ Sometimes now Lou searched old albums to test her proposition that nothing so compels a woman as the boyhood of the man she loves. She saw a snapshot of boy Maytree in cap and knickers dwarfed by his cross-eyed father on a wharf. In the prints, Maytree's cap's shadow blacked most of his face. Here again he crouched on the beach, as at a starting block, between his hairy mother and his visibly half-dead grandmother, in a wind harsh with that present's brine. In those prints she saw unease in the boy, as if he had been scanning the offing for the man. No, it was she who sought for the man in the child. She could not find him, so the boy seemed to her lost in a deafening wind. The boy seemed--wonderfully--to need her without knowing it. But he did not, not yet. Perhaps, she asked later, he never did?

p. 89 ~ In late September, when Lou could stir at all she moved like a glacier, the queer sort at which dogs bark. Reading Hardy always distracted her in rough patches, as when her father vamoosed. Now she might enjoy the company of solid Farmer Gabriel Oak. She read, "It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting out of love as there is for getting in." ... She had no force to fight what held her as wind pins paper to a fence. She was a wood horse, a rock cairn, a jerry can of pitch. She found herself holding one end of a love. she reeled out love's long line alone; it did not catch.

p. 96 ~ Perhaps every generation passes to the next, to hand down to yet more chldren, an untouched trunk of virtues. The adults describe the trunk's contents to the young and never open it.

p. 108 ~ Just as few men love their wives so much as their daughters, few, if any, women love anyone so much as their children. ...often she missed infant Petie now gone--his random gapes, his bizarre buttocks. How besotted they gazed at each other nose-on-nose. He fit her arms as if they two had invented how to carry a baby While she walked, he patted her shoulder in time with her steps. If he stopped patting, she stopped walking. If his pats speeded up, she stepped lively. ...Later she washed his filthy hair and admired his vertebrae, jiggled his head in toweling that smelled like his steam. She needled splinters and sandspur spines from his insteps as long as he let her. Every one of those Peties and Petes was gone. That is who she missed, those boys now overwritten.

p. 189 (as I can never resist even a passing reference to a favorite poet) ~ He and Lou used to have a way about them he recalled vividly. One man loved the pilgrim soul in you. Would she be thinking such a thing?
~ * ~

The Maytrees was an exquisite reading experience, one that I shall revisit often in the pages of my mind.

Harper Collins, 2007
216 pages
Rating: 5/5 (General Reading Scale)


Les said...

I've never read anything by Dillard, but my husband recently read (and loved) her novel, The Living. I think that's the title! Anyhow, he said pretty much what you had to say about Dillard's prose.

I purposely skipped reading all your favorite passages since I think I'll wind up reading this myself. Thanks for the lovely review.

Nan - said...

Boy this sounds good. The quotes were examples of excellent writing. Very, very good review, Marcia.