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The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Hosted By Elizabeth McCracken

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Like all of my favorite books, The Maytrees is hard to describe: its plot is time, really, but it's about empathy and marriage and divorce and love and the consolations of art. It begins with the courtship of Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree, who marry and move to Provincetown and become the eponymous Maytrees (other Maytrees follow) and it's full of remarkable characters and remarkable sentences. Some slim novels are spare and clean (I love those, too) but The Maytrees is crammed full, like an old New England house filled with geegaws and books and bricabrac. Above all, it is an intensely beautiful book.

Elizabeth McCracken

is the author of seven books. Her eighth, The Hero of this Book, will be published in October 2022.

Annie Dillard

is an American author whose books include The Maytrees, For the Time Being, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. 

Daily Reading

Day 1

July 23, 2020 | Prologue & Preface to page 9 (through "She was outside his reach.")

Ordinarily I dislike prologues, especially ones that dispense geological & historic information. Just start the book! But the first sentence, in its simplicity & mystery, softens my heart & makes me listen. —Elizabeth

Day 2

July 24, 2020 | Pages 11-29 (through "The more she saw of the Provincetown school, the more she favored grisailles.")

A relief to shift into Lou’s head at the top of page 11. I believe utterly in Maytree, but I find—as Lou herself does—that he takes up a lot of the oxygen. —Elizabeth

Day 3

July 25, 2020 | Pages 31-43 (through "Maytree was tall, and Sooner was strong as Babe Ruth.")

Dillard knows you know the antecedents to these pronouns. —Elizabeth

Day 4

July 26, 2020 | Pages 45-59 (through "Perhaps, she asked later, he never did?")

The 3rd person narrator, when it comes to Maytree (I never think of him as Toby) is so subtle. On page 45, he asks Lou a question, & she agrees—only with her smile & eyes. He has an enormous ego which Dillard gets at from the inside. —Elizabeth

Day 5

July 27, 2020 | Start of Part I, pages 61-74 (through "Goodnight, Lou.")

Part One begins with an accident: Petie, broken in Maytree’s arms, the start of a lot of broken things. —Elizabeth

Day 6

July 28, 2020 | Pages 75-89 (through "She should have lashed her elbows and knees, like Aletus.")

And now we step back in time, & in Maytree’s own head hear of his love for Deary, to whom he’s bound, & his regret. Dillard’s subject is love: she knows how often human beings screw it up. —Elizabeth

Day 7

July 29, 2020 | Pages 91-103 (including “interlude," through "Or was she of this earth, earthy?")

I myself climbed the Pilgrim Monument every day for a while as a form of contemplation in the early 90s. I’m not so good or thoughtful as Lou, but it’s an excellent monument. —Elizabeth

Day 8

July 30, 2020 | Pages 105-119 (through "An unfair sample.")

Is there a more chilling detail of a loving marriage than one spouse annotating the other’s letters? No offense to those of you posed with your beloveds in your avatars, but: brrrrr. —Elizabeth

Day 9

July 31, 2020 | Pages 121-133 ("In the meantime she cleared the landing strip.")

Time is one of Dillard’s topics, but how it changes us & how it doesn’t, what’s bound to erode & what’s utterly insoluble. —Elizabeth

Day 10

August 1, 2020 | Start of Part II, pages 135-152 (through "He fell asleep.")

Of all the obscure words Dillard deploys, tatterdemalion is perhaps my favorite, & wonderfully used in this four word sentence. Beautiful, surprising: extravagance set in simplicity. —Elizabeth

Day 11

August 2, 2020 | Pages 153-171 (through "Do you believe it?")

Lovely to see a mention of Mary Heaton Vorse here, author of Time and the Town, which could be the title for this book, too. Her house in Provincetown has just been turned into an art center. —Elizabeth

Day 12

August 3, 2020 | Start of Part III, pages 173-198 (through "Her inquiry was: What did she hope?")

Deary, with her yellow & blue hands, her jewelry, her Harris tweed, is the most physically vivid character in the book. She is a Love Object. —Elizabeth

Day 13

August 4, 2020 | Pages 199-216 (The End)

Suddenly, an epigraph, & this time I think the antecedents to these pronouns are purposefully unclear, though we can hope we know. —Elizabeth

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