Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Annie Dillard, The Maytrees, 2007.

Dillard’s novel is elegant and spare. It is, in fact, so spare as to lack much of a plot: rather it is a story of two lives, intertwining and growing apart and back together in unexpected ways. Much like her essays, the telling of the story uses detailed observations woven together with allusions and direct reference to ideas, poems, and stories, and almost all conclusions are left for the reader to discern.

It’s an intriguing book, slow-paced and told by a narrator content to jump ahead in time and then back again, as she traces the course of lovers who fit together and yet jar at the same time. Her depiction of Cape Cod is stunning in its detail, but more stunning still is Dillard showing life: offering facts without drooling admiringly over love, she allows the reader to come to a sense of what it is to live: how one finds and pursues avocation, and how one relates to the others in life. The novel is delightful; I don’t think it will find a wide audience. It circles away from its story, and reveals in ways so apart from the norm that I think it would take, if not a fan of Dillard’s work, at least a determined reader to move through its economy of telling two lives. Like all Dillard, though, it challenges the reader to grow into something more: it’s a wonderfully revealing prism into what I—and you—believe life to be.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Italo Calvino, Difficult Loves, 1994 (this collection).

I find it onerous to try to write anything sensible about a book by Calvino, even after reading slowly and carefully. This difficulty troubles me all the more because I greatly enjoy Calvino’s ethereal writing that both reveals and obfuscates, that shares inner motives and outer details but hides an essential and unnameable aspect of the stories and draws me in yet deeper. I could cheat, and quote the happy text on the back of the book:
an almost miraculous balance between the real and the imaginary, the familiar and the fabulous. Calvino transforms the lives of ordinary people into brilliant explorations of intricate interior worlds. Blending reality and illusion with elegance and precision, he weaves into his writing instants of recognition in which he cherishes deceptions and illusions of love swept away.

The jacket captures some of the appeal of this collection of nine short stories, one longer story, and one novella that all revolve around love un-attained, or love overpowered by a love from self rather than a love for other, or… Two of the short stories are, to my mind, pure genius: the adventure of the reader, and the adventure of the photographer. In both tales, the protagonist is unable—though desirous—of leaving behind a passion for an action in favour of a passion for a person, in differing ways that are brilliantly honest.

I’m going to stop trying to write about this book, now. It’s very good, and I strongly recommend it. The photographer’s adventure is the perfect compliment/antidote to anyone currently wrestling with Baudrillard; but the book is fun, and well-worth the slowness of reading stories by Calvino.