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)Youth's view of the old:_______
--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)
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.
These links lead to affiliate programs.