reading: The Maytrees

August 10, 2015

During college, I made my way through many of Annie Dillard's books, such as Teaching a Stone to Talk and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which are strong examples of narrative nonfiction. Her writing is so rich, and her observations are so detailed. I was excited to read a copy of her second novel, The Maytrees, to see her caliber of writing turned to fiction.

"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." -Annie Dillard

The Maytrees is an ephemeral story of a bohemian couple living on the sliver of Cape Cod between sky and sea. The blur between wide open expanses serves as a backdrop for the story, but also as an image for how the story is structured. As the story follows the main characters, Toby and Lou, time slips through the fabric of the story, early memories combining with later ones and the perspectives of the family flow into one another. Toby's poetry is his life, along with loving quiet painter, Lou. Lou's life centers around her son and the books she reads. The story meanders along their lives, telling the story of the way a couple can separate, and find each other many times in a lifelong friendship.

"They held themselves alert only in those few million cells where they touched. She learned from those cells his awareness and his courtesy. Love so sprang at her, she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it. Where was it in literature? Someone would have written something. She must not have recognized it. Time to read everything again." -Annie Dillard

The true hero of the story is reserved Lou. Although the third person omniscient perspective allows the reader into the minds of father and son, Lou's mind is the one that the reader experiences true love through. Despite the fact that Toby attempts to write poetry, and capture the idea of love, he falls short of understanding love and living it out. Instead, it is the ideas trapped in Lou's silent contemplation that teach the other characters, and the reader, about the true nature of love.

"Wishing and doing, within the realm of the possible, was willing; love was an act of will. Not forced obeisance, but- what? The obvious course of decency? Innate knowledge of goodness? Was it reasonable to love the good and good to love the reasonable?" -Annie Dillard

In The Maytrees, Annie Dillard told a story in which true love is not happy or easy, but somehow, in the end, that depiction rings true and is comforting. The book allows for a life lived well, despite difficulties, and despite the fact that life must end.

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