Annie Dillard is best known for her lyrical observations on nature and philosophy, and she puts those talents to marvelous use in her new novel The Maytrees, a love story that spans four decades and is set on Cape Cod. There are times when you can almost smell the brine Lou liked to peer down the gap between planks and wall where she saw fish swim. But this novel is less about place than it is about being. If you have not been enthralled by the details of a moth flying into a candle flame in Holy the Firm, or enchanted by a silken string of spiderweb across a coffee mug in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, then you should slow down and read carefully. For Dillard takes the most amazing facts and lays them bare for all to see.
Lou and Toby Maytree are a couple in love, both prizing free time more than a steady paycheck. How they think, feel and be is the substance of this novel. Most of their 14 years together consisted of easy dancing in the kitchen, sand dunes and their son Petie. Then, suddenly, Toby leaves Lou for a friend of theirs, Deary Hightoe. Twenty years later, Toby and Deary return, as Deary is dying and Lou nurses her in her last days. That somewhat startling turn of events is not so unusual in the context of this couple, who started out in love and ended life together. Lou learns forgiveness and how to let go; she works at it for years. That she does this is what enables her to nurse her old friend. And who else could Toby turn to?The Maytrees is a love story as much about life as about the inner workings of the heart. Dillard, an American literary treasure who won a Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which was written when she was just 29 years old, is described as a gregarious hermit. If you are familiar with her work, you will recognize the voice (which has matured since her first novel, The Living). If you have not read her work, this is a great place to start. Linda White writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.