I had to laugh reading the one reader review for The Maytrees at BN.com shortly after the book published last year, which fumes - "This book is HORRIBLE. I dont (sic) know what type of audience she was writing to but I was
not in it ... It was like I was reading a vocabulary
section from the SAT... No plot, no character
The, presumably, young woman is right, The Maytrees is not for her nor for anyone else who is young enough to be always looking forward and never looking back, who has never spent moments lost in bitter-sweet memories of times past or wondered how life might have turned out if a different path had been taken; nor is it for someone who has never stopped to wonder what the point of life is in the first place.
She is also right that some of the words are likely to have appeared in an SAT from time to time - and a good thing too! The Oxford English Dictionary has entries for over 170,000 words in current use and almost 50,000 that are obsolete. To have such a richness of words available to us but to turn them away in favor of the prosaic is the literary equivalent of throwing out the herbs and spices and existing on a diet of meat and potatoes. All kudos to Dillard for occasionally throwing in words on which to feast our minds - sometimes old friends, known but rarely use, other times a a new word with which to become acquainted. You might wish to keep a dictionary handy but, better still, just let the language wash over you like the waves on the shore - and then, if you wish, look them up later.
The Maytrees explores the wonder of life and offers a meditation on love. Lou's life is rich in nothing but time. But what a wonderful thing to be rich in - to have consciously chosen to live a life in which there is time to truly observe the world around and wonder at it, to live a life in which there is time to give and forgive. Although the writing rises above the everyday, the characters themselves are not particularly exceptional, in different hands they could be bohemian clichés - but Dillard's are not ordinary hands. Her poetically lean narrative is a case study in how to say a great deal in few words. As one reviewer puts it, if The Maytrees were live theater, it would be played out on a stage with few props and no scenery, and we would leave the play feeling more than we could speak, with lots to think about.
If this all sounds too serious for you, fear not, although there are no laugh out loud moments in this slim novel, there are many moments of wry humor and subtle ironies. In many ways, it is the perfect beach read - curl up on a sun-warmed dune and read a few pages and then lie back and contemplate the wonders of the world around you and how good it is to be alive!
This review was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the June 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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