Sunday, July 13, 2008

Marital Love

Finding a good book to read sometimes feels like a treasure hunt. When I read “The Great Man” by Kate Christensen I discovered that she had won the PEN/Faulkner award for the novel. I then saw the short list for the award this year. On that list was “The Maytrees” by Annie Dillard. When I began reading “The Maytrees” I learned that Annie Dillard was a well known writer who had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. And so it goes. One good book leads to another and we discover authors we didn’t know about and reading literature takes on a life of its own.

“The Maytrees” is on the surface a love story that begins after World War II. It takes place in Provincetown, a famous artistic community on the tip of Cape Cod. Toby Maytree courted Lou Bigelow on the dunes and she met his friends, the quirky cast of characters with odd names, Deary Hightoe, Cornelius Blue, Reevadare Weaver and Hiram and Elaine Cairo from New York. Toby and Lou marry and eventually have a son, Petie. The story is a meditation on love and relationships.

Annie Dillard is a writer who understands nature. “The Maytrees” is full of rich descriptions of the natural landscapes on Cape Cod. But Annie Dillard is also a published poet and the story is filled with imagery. She describes the sea, “muddy sea ice” and the dunes in the fog…………… “From a white lake of fog opaque as paint, the tips of dunes and only the tips of dunes, arose everywhere like sand peaks that began halfway up the sky………”. She also uses words that are uncommon at best, such as, “alewife, tatterdemalion, zebus or epistomeliac“. And, sometimes it is difficult to understand exactly what Ms. Dillard is saying. But the language, the characters and the story win out.

After a blissful, serene fourteen year marriage, Toby has a mid-life crisis and their lives are completely altered. Ms. Dillard writes a story about marital love, how it begins, endures and sometimes slips away. Then circumstances can change again and people need each other and most of all they need the people who loved them. Annie Dillard tells us and the Maytrees show us that compassion and forgiveness are also part of marital love, “Lasting love is an act of will.”

“The Maytrees” is a short novel, only 216 pages, but it will surprise its readers with beautiful descriptions of nature, wonderful imagery, poetic prose and a captivating love story.

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