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.