Summary and book reviews of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

The Maytrees

A Novel

by Annie Dillard

The Maytrees
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 216 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 240 pages

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Book Summary

In spare, elegant prose, Dillard traces the lives of Toby and Lou Maytree. She presents willed bonds of loyalty, friendship, and abiding love. Warm and hopeful, The Maytrees is the surprising capstone of Annie Dillard's original body of work.

Toby Maytree first sees Lou Bigelow on her bicycle in postwar Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her laughter and loveliness catch his breath. Maytree is a Provincetown native, an educated poet of thirty. As he courts Lou, just out of college, her stillness draws him. Hands-off, he hides his serious wooing, and idly shows her his poems.

In spare, elegant prose, Dillard traces the Maytrees' decades of loving and longing. They live cheaply among the nonconformist artists and writers that the bare tip of Cape Cod attracts. Lou takes up painting. When their son Petie appears, their innocent Bohemian friend Deary helps care for him. But years later it is Deary who causes the town to talk.

In this moving novel, Dillard intimately depicts nature's vastness and nearness. She presents willed bonds of loyalty, friendship, and abiding love. Warm and hopeful, The Maytrees is the surprising capstone of Annie Dillard's original body of work.

Chapter One

It began when Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree first met. He was back home in Provincetown after the war. Maytree first saw her on a bicycle. A red scarf, white shirt, skin clean as eggshell, wide eyes and mouth, shorts. She stopped and leaned on a leg to talk to someone on the street. She laughed, and her loveliness caught his breath. He thought he recognized her flexible figure. Because everyone shows up in Provincetown sooner or later, he had taken her at first for Ingrid Bergman until his friend Cornelius straightened him out.

He introduced himself. —You're Lou Bigelow, aren't you? She nodded. They shook hands and hers felt hot under sand like a sugar doughnut. Under her high brows she eyed him straight on and straight across. She had gone to girls' schools, he recalled later. Those girls looked straight at you. Her wide eyes, apertures opening, seemed preposterously to tell him, I and these my arms are for you. I know, he thought back at the stranger, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In post World War II Cape Cod, Toby Maytree falls in love with Lou Bigelow, a reserved, Ingrid Bergman-like beauty. The two lovers marry and live among their bohemian friends in a shack on the Provincetown seaside. The Maytrees need very little to pass their days: books, poetry, painting. The arrival of their young son Petie seemingly completes them. Years later, Toby leaves Lou for their friend, free-spirited Deary. Lou stays in Provincetown with her grief, living alone, and even enjoying her solitude, while Toby and Deary move to Maine. When Toby finally returns, it's to ask Lou the unthinkable: to care for dying Deary. A story of love and affection, The Maytrees follows the ebb and flow of life and forgiveness, and our ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

.... 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!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

USA Today - Deirdre Donahue

The Maytrees showcases all the reasons people worship Dillard, whose first book, the non-fiction Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, created a sensation and won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize. The Maytrees has elegant, evocative language. It describes nature in a way that would enchant the most hardened city dweller. And it captures the mystery of love, maternal as well as romantic. This novel is a treasure.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Heller McAlpin

No less than her nonfiction, The Maytrees grapples -- beautifully -- with the question, "What was it, exactly -- or even roughly -- that we people are meant to do here? Or, how best use one's short time?" Reading this gorgeous novel is one suggestion.

The Boston Globe - Margot Livesey

The word "philosophical" may not be universally understood as praise, so let me add at once that she also creates rich, opinionated characters and moments of real suspense; the reader is amply rewarded for the concentration it requires to enter Dillard's world. And rewarded not least by her prose, which throughout is bracingly intelligent, lovely, and humane.

The Los Angeles Times - Susan Salter Reynolds

You have to be wise to write in this kind of shorthand. You have to know something about what words can and cannot do. "Love so sprang at her," she writes of Lou, "she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it. Where was it in literature? Someone would have written something. She must not have recognized it. Time to read everything again." It takes depth and width of experience to write lean and still drag your readers under the surface of their own awareness to that place where it's all vaguely familiar and, yes, universal.

Washington Post - Marilynne Robinson

The Maytrees is about wonder -- in the terms of this novel, life's one truth. It is wonder indeed that is invoked here, vast and elusive and inexhaustible and intimate and timeless.

The New York Times - Michelle Green

As in all of Ms. Dillard’s writing, transcendent moments abound. And the last line of The Maytrees is so lovely that it may send you right back to the book’s beginning.

The New York Times Book Review - Julia Reed

[O]n The Maytrees, despite the big words and the name-dropping…there is also good old straight narrative and prose that is often, yes, breathtakingly illuminative.

Library Journal

The poetic language, close observations of nature, and moving, family-centered theme in this short, low-key novel should appeal to a wide readership.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. In this mythic and transfixing tale, Dillard wryly questions notions of love, exalts in life's metamorphoses, and celebrates goodness. As she casts a spell sensuous and metaphysical, Dillard covertly bids us to emulate may trees--the resilient hawthorn--the tree of joy, of spring, of the heart.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In short, simple sentences, Dillard calls on her erudition as a naturalist and her grace as poet to create an enthralling story of marriage—particular and universal, larky and monumental.

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Beyond the Book

Annie Dillard has written eleven books, including the memoir of her parents, An American Childhood; the Northwest pioneer epic The Living; and the nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A gregarious recluse, she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She was born in April 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Best known for her narrative nonfiction, she has also published poetry, essays, literary criticism, autobiography and fiction. She is married to the ...

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