15 July 2010

Review: The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard's The Maytrees is a love story. It's about how Toby Maytree fell in love with Lou Bigelow in the years just after the war. It's about life in a shack on the beach outside of Provencetown. It's about families and friendships, betrayal and forgiveness, birth and death. It is ultimately a character study and a novel of place.

Dillard's writing is spare but beautifully crafted. Each page contains dialogue, ideas, or descriptions that make you take notice. I've never before scribbled down so many keywords while listening to an audiobook. Here are some of the quotations that I later tracked down.

Two thoughts on wisdom:

Downstairs she cracked kindling on her knee and boiled the kettle. Why sadder but wiser? Why not happier and wiser? What else could wisdom be? She drank coffee black. She would not fall apart. (p. 85)

--Let's pretend we're old, Lou remembered saying, back when they were young. They had been watching hurricane waves rip the outer beach. To walk back they aligned adjacent legs like a pair in a three-legged race.

--Those days will come soon enough Maytree said. His gravity startled her. Now those days were here. . . . She was loose in her skin as a rabbit. She felt French knots on her shins. Now she wanted a book not to knock her out but only to move her. And when will the days of wisdom come? (p. 200)
Youth's view of the old:
How constantly, Lou thought, old people claim to have been once young. As if they don't believe it. That old people were old never jarred her, but it shook the daylights out of them. (p. 26)
And some of the joys of aging:
In the past few years she let go her ties to people she did not like, to ironing, to dining out in town, and to buying things not necessary and that themselves needed care. 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. (p. 131)
It's funny that of all the memorable and beautiful prose that fill this short novel, the bits I took note of when listening to the audiobook were all from Lou's point of view and were about aging. Why, I wonder, did I not jot down the lovely descriptions of the dunes or stars or ocean? Why not anything from Maytree's thoughts? Why not a passage about love? If you ask me what the book is about, I'll say it is a love story. And yet, it is Lou's growing old that stayed with me.

The audiobook edition (Harper Audio), was brilliantly read by David Rasche. It would have been easy for Rasche to have added drama or too much emotion to his performance; instead, he reads the novel in a way that allows listeners to make their own connections to the story and to be moved by Dillard's words on their own terms.

The Maytrees at Powell's
The Maytrees at Book Depository
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Published by Harper Perennial, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780061239540
Challenges: Women Unbound, 100+
YTD: 64
Source: Review copy (see review policy)
Rating: B+
The Harper Perennial imprint on Beth Fish Reads
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Jason G. 7/15/10, 6:46 AM  

Nice review Beth!
The writing sounds wonderful! As a former Cape Cod resident I've had to add this to my TBL to list.

caite 7/15/10, 6:46 AM  

of course, my ears perked up at the mention of the beach at Provincetown... I believe has a nice lighthouse!

Diane 7/15/10, 6:50 AM  

I haven't read this one, but do love visiting the Cape. There are several good books (novels) set in P-Town.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 7/15/10, 7:55 AM  

"spare but beautifully crafted" is the perfect description of Dillard's writing.

I should pick this up for vacation reading - enjoy fiction set in places I'm visiting.

JoAnn 7/15/10, 8:37 AM  

Great review! I brought his home from the library when it was first released, but had to return it unread. Will go sample the audio at audible now...

Julie P. 7/15/10, 8:40 AM  

I read this one years ago and it didn't really resonate with me. I wonder if I'm not older (ahem) and more mature if I'd appreciate it more.

Sandy Nawrot 7/15/10, 8:40 AM  

A book about location, especially a beachside location, coupled with such beautiful writing, sounds like heaven. And did someone say something about a lighthouse?

Jen Forbus 7/15/10, 11:56 AM  

Oh, I should check this one out. I read THE PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK in high school? or was it my freshmen year in college? I forget now. But I know exactly what you mean bout Dillard making you take note of her description. It's stunning and definitely memorable. I'm also thrilled that you liked the audio. Her work could be destroyed with the wrong narrator, I think.

Belle 7/15/10, 4:26 PM  

Sounds like a great read, especially in audio. I'll be adding this one to my list.

nat @book, line, and sinker 7/15/10, 9:49 PM  

i can always trust your reviews and this one sounds great. i love the pinata simile and need to strive toward a life like that.

like you, i'm a huge fan of audio books and often find myself swayed into liking a mediocre book if it has a great narrator. :)

Beth Hoffman 7/15/10, 10:40 PM  

I read this book quite a long while ago, and I don't remember much about it. But I loved this quote you included: "How constantly, Lou thought, old people claim to have been once young. As if they don't believe it. That old people were old never jarred her, but it shook the daylights out of them. (p. 26)"

Mystica 7/15/10, 10:47 PM  

The book is new to me so thank you for this review.

bermudaonion 7/16/10, 8:01 AM  

I don't enjoy romance much but I do enjoy a good love story. I loved the quote about the joys of aging.

Michele at Reader's Respite 7/16/10, 10:38 PM  

Love the quotes you feature here....I'd like to read this one after digesting these quotes!

BooksPlease 7/17/10, 4:25 AM  

I read this about two years ago. I felt it was a bit detached and looking at love and aging from a distance. I much prefered her book, Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) 7/17/10, 12:12 PM  

Just bought this a few months ago at the library's book sale, not knowing much about it nor having read Annie Dillard's writing, so this is great. Cape Cod was the first vacation that The Husband and I took together, so it is a special place for us. Sounds like a perfect beach read!

Summer 7/17/10, 2:34 PM  

Great review, thanks. Dillard is tremendous at writing about place. I look forward to reading this one.

Beth Kephart 7/17/10, 5:28 PM  

Loved this book and grew through it toward more words (that I wish I could now remember better).

Mindy Withrow 7/18/10, 5:28 PM  

I read (and reviewed on my blog) this book last year and had much the same response to it as you did. It was the first Dillard title I had read, and I remember noting how spare and elegant the prose was, and also with how much dignity she wrote of aging. I have several of her older books in my stack now--thanks for the reminder to get back to them!

Eva 7/20/10, 4:14 AM  

Ohh! Now I want to get it on audio. :D

Kris 7/20/10, 4:44 PM  

Great review, I'm going to see if my library has it on audio.

softdrink 7/21/10, 11:24 PM  

I don't think I've ever read anything by Dillard. Maybe I should start with this one.

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