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The Maytrees
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The Maytrees

3.7 18
by Annie Dillard

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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,


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

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
“A gorgeous meditation on one couple’s slog through marriage, separation and reconciliation.”
Annie Dillard dives headlong into the deep, unfathomable mystery of married love in this lyrical novel -- only the second of her long, distinguished career. Set largely on the windswept tip of Cape Cod amid rolling tides and drifting dunes, the story is simplicity itself: A man and woman meet in postwar Provincetown, fall in love, marry, and have a child. Years later, one leaves the other in a bewildering act of betrayal that tests but does not break their transcendent bond; later still, their lives intersect again in an unanticipated twist of fate. For all its brevity and simplicity, The Maytrees is not an easy, breezy read. Filled with the deliciously elliptical language and breathtaking descriptions of the natural world that have earned Dillard comparisons to Thoreau and William Blake, this is a story to be savored -- slowly, languorously, and with careful attention to every gorgeous detail.
Julia Reed
The good news is that in 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. Most important, in the book's central couple, Lou and Toby Maytree, as well as their motley group of Cape Cod friends, she gives us actual characters. In The Writing Life, there is no one (if we don't count the endless dead writers) but a stunt pilot she flies with in the last chapter to break the monotony of the mind…There, the endless musings are all her own, but here they are in the mouths of other people—blessedly quirky, funny, interesting other people… They are not only enough to save the book—from the author herself, in a way—but they are also infused with such life that they make it a near great one.
—The New York Times Book Review
Marilynne Robinson
Dillard has always been fascinated by time -- by the fact that existence is charged with it, saturated with it, borne along by it into a future that makes the span of any life less than negligible. And time in its mystery and grandeur bestrides this novel. Its sea is wild and generative, its sky orders the constellations, and both are primordial, archaic, full of the fact of time past and persisting, unchanging, changing everything. If there were such a thing as cosmic realism, The Maytrees would be a classic of the genre.
— The Washington Post
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
Publishers Weekly

David Rasche's reading of Annie Dillard's lovely new novel is the epitome of serene. He appropriately treats this tale of love lost and regained with calm attention and stillness. However, the combination of his deliberate and thoughtful reading, similar to the way many poets read their poetry, and Dillard's spare and elegant prose may not be for everyone. Add to the mix the soothing sounds of the Windham Hillesque piano pieces that open and close each disc and a listener may be lulled into an almost meditative state or beyond. This audio experience is like floating on ocean swells as the surf roars in the distance: powerful, mesmerizing and relaxing. In a way, it is the perfect beach book: listen as you soak in the sun's rays and drift in and out of the finely crafted, lithe narrative. Be warned, however: this vast and loving epic may not be suitable listening for a tired driver with a long night's journey ahead. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 5). (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) is best known for her nonfiction; this 11th book, set on Cape Cod, is a fictional account of a broken family. The plot follows the courtship and marriage of Toby Maytree and Lou Bigelow, who fall in love and settle near Provincetown shortly after World War II. Good-looking, unconventional, and brainy, Toby and Lou share an intense appreciation of the natural world—the Cape's wild sand dunes are major players in the novel—yet husband and wife live most vividly within their own minds, a trait strongly reflected in Pete, their only child. When Toby impulsively leaves with another woman to settle in Maine, none of the Maytrees really knows how to cope. Many years pass before tragedy propels them to achieve reunion and redemption based on selfless love. The poetic language, close observations of nature, and moving, family-centered theme in this short, low-key novel should appeal to a wide readership. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/07.]
—Starr E. Smith

Kirkus Reviews
An anthropologist's eye and a poet's precision distinguish this superbly written novel, exploring the ritual complexities of life, love and death. In only her second novel (after The Living, 1992), the Pulitzer Prize-winning essayist/memoirist (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974, etc.) provides a portrait of a relationship as it weathers the decades and endures twists and turns both unexpected and common. In almost fairy-tale fashion, Dillard details the romance in Cape Cod's Provincetown between Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree, who seem fated to fall in love. She's beautiful, though as Toby and the reader learn, she's so much more. He's a few years older, an aspiring poet, and initially tongue-tied and dumbstruck around Lou. They marry and have a son whom they both adore. Life is perfect-perhaps too perfect. Maybe people who idealize each other to such an extent can't know each other too well. Not only do Toby and Lou surprise themselves, they surprise their tightly knit community, whose quirky characters are themselves full of surprises. Little goes as Toby and Lou had planned when they were younger and enraptured. Twenty years after one of them betrays the other and moves to Maine, they ultimately reunite, on an even deeper level than what they had earlier known. With a penchant for alliteration and a refusal to pass moral judgments, Dillard renders her characters as flawed humans trying to make sense of the lives they are living but cannot understand. In the process, she examines the essence of beauty and the nature of death, the fate that all her characters face and the common denominator that perhaps defines each of them. The compact, elliptical narrative will continue to pervade thereader's consciousness long after the novel ends.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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7.98(w) x 5.46(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Maytrees
A Novel

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, this long-limbed girl. I know and I am right with you.

He felt himself blush and knew his freckles looked green. She was young and broad of mouth and eye and jaw, fresh, solid and airy, as if light rays worked her instead of muscles. Oh, how a poet is a sap; he knew it. He managed to hold his eyes on her. Her rich hair parted on the side; she was not necessarily beautiful, or yes she was, her skin's luster. Her pupils were rifle bores shooting what? When he got home he could not find his place in Helen Keller.

He courted Lou carefully in town, to wait, surprised, until his newly serious intent and hope firmed or fled, and until then,lest he injure her trust. No beach walks, dune picnics, rowing, sailing. Her silence made her complicit, innocent as beasts, oracular. Agitated, he saw no agitation in her even gaze. Her size and whole-faced smile maddened him, her round arms at her sides, stiff straw hat. Her bare shoulders radiated a smell of sun-hot skin. Her gait was free and light. Over her open eyes showed two widths of blue lids whose size and hue she would never see. Her face's skin was transparent, lighted and clear like sky. She barely said a word. She tongue-tied him.

She already knew his dune-shack friend Cornelius Blue, knew the professors Hiram and Elaine Cairo from New York, knew everyone's friend Deary the hoyden who lived on the pier or loose in the dunes, and old Reevadare Weaver who gave parties. Bumping through a painter's opening, picking up paint at the hardware store, ransacking the library, she glanced at him, her mouth curving broadly, as if they shared a joke. He knew the glance of old. It was a summons he never refused. The joke was—he hoped—that the woman had already yielded but would set him jumping through hoops anyway. Lou Bigelow's candid glance, however, contained neither answer nor question, only a spreading pleasure, like Blake's infant joy, kicking the gong around.

Maytree concealed his courtship. On the Cairos' crowded porch, she steadied her highball on the rail. He asked her, Would she like to row around the harbor with him? She turned and gave him a look, Hold on, Buster. He was likely competing with fleets and battalions of men. Maytree wanted her heart. She had his heart and did not know it. She shook her head, clear of eye, and smiled. If he were only a painter: her avid expression, mouth in repose or laughing, her gleaming concentration. The wide-open skin between her brows made their arcs long. Not even Ingrid Bergman had these brows. The first few times he heard her speak, her Britishy curled vowels surprised him. He rarely dared look her way.

One day he might accompany Lou Bigelow from town out here to his family's old dune shack. He was afraid his saying "shack" would scare them both. Without her he already felt like one of two pieces of electrical tape pulled apart. He could not risk a mistake.

Robert Louis Stevenson, he read in his Letters, called marriage "a sort of friendship recognized by the police." Charmed, Maytree bought a red-speckled notebook to dedicate to this vexed sphere—not to marriage, but to love. More red-speckled notebooks expanded, without clarifying, this theme. Sextus Propertius, of love: "Shun this hell." From some book he copied: "How does it happen that a never-absent picture has in it the power to make a fresh, overwhelming appearance every hour, wide-eyed, white-toothed, terrible as an army with banners?" She was outside his reach.

Of course she glared at Maytree that fall when he came by barefoot at daybreak and asked if she would like to see his dune shack. Behind his head, color spread up sky. In the act of diving, Orion, rigid, shoulder-first like a man falling, began to dissolve. Then even the zenith and western stars paled and gulls squawked.

Her house was on the bay in town. He proposed to walk her to the ocean—not far, but otherworldly in the dunes. She had been enjoying Bleak House. Men always chased her and she always glared.

She most certainly did not ask him in. His was a startling figure: his Mars-colored hair, his height and tension, his creased face. He looked like a traveling minstrel, a red-eyed night heron. His feet were long and thin like the rest of him. He wore a billed fishing cap. An army canteen hung from his belt. She had been a schoolgirl in Marblehead, Massachusetts, when he went West.

—Just a walk, he said, sunrise. We won't need to go inside.

In his unsure smile she saw his good faith. Well, that was considerate, brickish of him, to say that they would not go in. She agreed. She had not seen the dunes in weeks. Maytree suggested she bring, as he did, a pair of socks, to provide webbed feet, and wear a brimmed hat that tied. In predawn light she saw the sunspokes around his eyes under his cap. The Maytrees
A Novel
. Copyright © by Annie Dillard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Annie Dillard has written twelve books,including in nonfiction For the Time Being, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Holy the Firm, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Maytrees 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Just after WW II ends in Provincetown on Cape Cod, wannabe thirtyish poet Toby Maytree and college student Lou Bigelow meet. Though an author, Toby struggles to get his tongue straight as he is unable to put together two coherent thoughts let alone sentences. Still she senses something deep inside his soul they relish the dunes, fall in love and marry. A few years later they add a son Pete to their perfect family. However, their idyllic life together ends when a cheating Toby leaves his wife and son to go be with his lover in Maine. Two decades later, a tragedy brings Toby and Lou together for the first time since he left his family behind. They poorly coped with his desertion. Feelings between the pair remains strong, but love proved weak the first time around. The key to this fine family redemption drama is Annie Dillard avoids values pointing in order to make a ¿guilty¿ verdict re her flawed characters instead she leaves that to readers to decide who failed at relationships and why. No action, this is a purely character driven tale of paradise lost and paradise regained maybe as a wiser Toby, Lou and Pete finally understand life is a journey to death.----------- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
My sister sent this book to me as a 'book on Tape' ie., a CD. She knows me pretty well. Dilliard is a true artist. Maybe there are many people who prefer an uncomplicated love story, but LOVE , in it's truest sense is always very complicated. Expressing the union of love between people is one of the hardest writing tasks to perform with the beauty and detail that Dilliard has mastered. How else can one describe that moment of falling off to sleep with 'feet entangled'? It is a universal moment, all of us lucky enough, KNOW. Her detailed descriptions of every moment, 'as he walk up the dune...' Amazing, she could be a painter. Her description of Maytree's final hours ... well only those of us privileged enough to have been there...and able to convey the enormous meaning and experience of it...and our own shared mortality........ Dilliar is brilliant. I savored every moment. THANK YOU
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dillard captures the experience of being human and the sense of our place in the vast universe of stars and planets. Simultaneously, the characters experience the emotions and experiences of the smallness of being human. Her characters were lovely, real, and will be remembered as if they were my friends. Dillard's style will challenge you, but you will return for the tastes and exploration. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best literature is challenging. You will need to take your time reading this, but at only 216 pages, there's more to savor and digest. You may need to look words up. Do not be afraid. This is a tender, wonderful account of love, told over many decades, with marvelous nuggets of truth and laugh-out-loud funny observations. Ms. Dillard's prose will make you think, and then think again.
TexasDoc More than 1 year ago
This book reads as if Hemingway was the author . . . this a compliment to the current author. The plot is truthful to life in the situation that was written. It is amazing how little current mankind knows about true life until read a novel that throws it right in front of your face. Do we truely hate those that we marry and divorce? Not really, it is only the painful hurt that we must remove from our hearts and when we do there is a wonderful relationship that can return to our lives. This story tells us exactly how this life experience can become reality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What other authors say on the back of the book sums up Dillard's book well. She is the master of saying much with little. Her characters are people we've seen, but perhaps not met. She writes about the people we think about as we sip our coffee and observe. It was a trip into my fantasy world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Jojo911 More than 1 year ago
It was a good plot and interesting characters, but the writing was too flowery for my taste. I have a pretty good sized vocabulary and a BA in English ,and I looked up more words reading this book than I have anything since reading Chaucer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gi1gam3sh More than 1 year ago
I chose this book because I had heard great things about the author. Several articles, snippets of books, and other reviews led me to believe her works would be great to read. I found the style of writing hard to read. She writes very informally as if you are in conversation with the character's thoughts...not easy to follow for me. Maybe this is her usual style of writing and others like it. Although the characters were well developed I struggled to remember whose thoughts I was reading now. I only waded through 2/3 of the book and stopped. It took a twist that promised to be following the darker side of humanity and I decided not to take the time to finish the struggle of reading this novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not a book to enjoy - this is a book for poetry lovers or people who want to disect the meaning. I did not find it an escape. It was difficult to read and I di not understand a lot of what the author was trying to convey.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
What¿s worse then having to ask the wife and mother of your young son whom you left for another woman to help you care for the wife you left her for with her health care? And, the new wife was once the ex-wife¿s best friend. The Maytrees appeared to me to be a book of beautiful quotes connected by bouts of story: Why can love, love, apparently absolute recur and recur. Why does love feel it is, know for certain it is eternal and absolute every time, Maytree. A drunk man names a seven year old girl Tandy which he says means something like the quality of¿Tandy means the quality of being strong to be loved. It is something men need from women and that they do not get. Why would someone saddle a baby with a made up name that means the quality of being strong to be loved? Jane. Marriage is a step so grave and decisive that it attracts lightheaded variable men by its very awfulness, Maytree. Anthropology had proved against its expectations the ideal of lasting love and also its undeniable if minority presence was well nigh universal in culture after culture from the Stone Age on. Say that evolution came up with eighteen months infatuation that might be long enough to get baby on its feet and arranged for it only by grandpa or siblings then the man can go off and impregnate someone else. Why then do old people fall in love? Why stay loving? The feeling of love is so crucial to our species it is excessive like labor pain. Lasting love is an act of will. It is a gentlemen¿s game, Maytree. Maytree spends the entire book analyzing and exploring various aspects of love, his way of loving and why. I experienced this book through audio read by David Rasche and what an experience it was.
Guest More than 1 year ago
thanks for nothing for the cliff note version of the book harriet, now i don't have to read it. i give it 5 stars based on your revealing plotlines. you sure do get around here on the reviews and offer no subjective condsideration of the books you seemingly read. very suspicious!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is HORRIBLE. I dont know what type of audience she was writing to but I was not in it. I had to keep a dictionary by my bed just to get through the book. It was like I was reading a vocabulary section from the SAT. If I had written this story and turned it in for a grade, then I would have received and 'F'. No plot, no character development, etc...By the middle of the book, I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters. Not a summer read or a book club read.