Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees is a philosophical poem, a book-length existential exploration of the sort that Dillard’s character Toby Maytree writes. Known simply as Maytree, this ex-soldier, occasional carpenter, and bohemian beach poet of post-WWII Provincetown, Massachusetts, stakes his claim on the tall and well-read but quiet beauty Lou Bigelow. Together, Lou and Maytree eke out a simple and contented existence in the dunes, two souls living as one solitary in the starlit sand, joined eventually by Baby Petie. When, after fourteen years, Maytree decides to move on, he and Lou are aware that their union yet survives, a union that will extend to and enclose all those who come to rely on it during the next twenty-five years.
This is a story about beauty and endurance, a story about love—romantic, maternal, fraternal; selfless, knowing, abiding. It is about the relationship between one person and another and the relationship between people and place.
Short phrases, dense with meaning, advance the few scenes like paintings that define Lou’s and Maytree’s uncomplicated yet intense lives. Dillard’s poetic style, combined with the few-worded New England fortitude of her characters, renders them transcendent as Everyman while remaining intimate and deeply connected to their time and place. Unlike any novel I have experienced, this one deserves to be read slowly and absorbed a few pages at a time.
You can listen to the author read a brief excerpt here.