Monday, August 6, 2007

Annie Dillard

When I first read about The Maytrees I knew I would add the title to my "to read" list. Even though I'd never read Annie Dillard previously, I was familiar with her and felt that I was somehow lacking for not having read her sooner. I was right!

Ms. Dillard's writing style, described in the book jacket as "spare and elegant," was a bit jarring to me at first. I tend toward writers with a penchant for long, flowing sentences that take up half a page. Her clipped lines of half-finished thoughts and conversations that lacked punctuation took a little adjusting to. I would sit and read a few pages out loud to feel the flow until pretty soon I was drawn right in. And guess what? You CAN start a sentence with a preposition!

It's the characters, though, who truly capture the imagination. Toby and Lou Maytree marry and live together in her little one-room shack on the dunes outside Provincetown. For fourteen years, with nary an argument, they share a life of simple quiet days, deep friendships, rolicking good sex and the raising of their only child, Petie. Toby writes his poetry, marveling at his good fortune and Lou reads anything and everything, feeding the hunger of her deep interior life.

When Maytree leaves town with their longtime friend Deary, it is more of a shock to the reader than it is to Lou. She simply accepts what life has given her and looks philosophically on the bright side; she'll have more time to read and, she has Petie. Dillard uses the perfect metaphor to describe this time in Lou's life. As she simplifies, cutting out fashion, radio, eating in town, and other people and things she no longer needs, she finds that "the blows opened her days like a pinata. A hundred freedoms fell on her." Twenty years later when a broken Maytree returns to Provincetown with Deary, slowly dying of heart failure, he arrives at Lou's door asking for help. She doesn't hesitate.

At a time when the news is so bleak and people are so mean-spirited, Annie Dillard's beautiful examination of the vagaries of long-term love, loyalty and forgiveness is a perfect antidote. The sense of rightness that this book gave me has stayed with me long after the reading of the last page.

1 comment:

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