the maytrees

Annie Dillard published her most recent book, The Maytrees, a novel, in 2007. The cover of the paperback has recessed letters that I can feel with my eyes closed and uneven pages that make me think the book was created by a real person. It’s interesting, I think, coming from me that the unevenness makes me think of a real person.

On the inside are characters I can see with my eyes closed and imperfect lives that echo our own. The Maytrees is the story of two individuals who came together once upon a time in a place I love–Provincetown.

The following sentence from a storyteller narrator who is hereafter rarely seen begins the four-and-a-half-page prologue:

“The Maytrees were young long ago.”

There’s also a preface, which starts out with this sentence that divides the Maytrees into two individuals:

“It began when Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree first met.”

After the preface, there’s a page break and the apparent first sentence of the novel in which the narrative distance has shrunk yet again:

“Of course she glared at Maytree that fall when he came by barefoot at daybreak and asked if she would like to see his dune shack.”

Or is it the first sentence? What follows those words are what appear to be eight unmarked, short chapters. Then, you turn the page to find on page 61 the heading, “Part One,” and this first sentence:

“That winter the crowd on the frozen corner parted for Lou, saying, He’s okay, it’s all right.”

I wonder if this is a way of saying you needed to know all that came before but now we’re getting to the real story. The novel continues with an Interlude, Part Two, Part Three, and finally an Epilogue, which includes a space break and another short section.

My favorite passage comes right before Part Two and shows Lou discovering who she is:

“The one-room ever-sparer dune shack was her chief dwelling…Lou had long since cut out fashion and all radio but the Red Sox. In the past few years she had 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.

And then toward the end of the book, after a certain event, she discovers something else about herself:

“She bade her solitude good-bye. Good-bye no schedule but whim; good-bye her life among no things but her own and each always in place; good-bye no real meals, good-bye free thought. The whole flat flock of them flapped away. But what was solitude for if not to foster decency?

So much to say about this one, but for now I’ll leave you here.