The Maytrees

The Maytrees

by Annie Dillard


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“Brilliant. . . . A shimmering meditation on the ebb and flow of love.”  —New York Times

“In her elegant, sophisticated prose, Dillard tells a tale of intimacy, loss and extraordinary friendship and maturity against a background of nature in its glorious color and caprice. The Maytrees is an intelligent, exquisite novel.” — The Washington Times

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061239540
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/10/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 412,683
Product dimensions: 7.98(w) x 5.46(h) x 0.65(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

The Maytrees

A Novel
By Annie Dillard


Copyright © 2007 Annie Dillard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-123953-3

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.


Excerpted from The Maytrees by Annie Dillard Copyright © 2007 by Annie Dillard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Maytrees 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 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.
sharlene_w on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the simple message that love can runs deeper than the betrayal and I appreciated the lyrical prose, but I mostly found the book to be rambling and disjointed. Either I wasn't intellectual enough to "get it" or it wasn't that good. I started over two or three times, trying to understand the plot. I really couldn't say I was glad I read it when all was said and done because reading it was such a chore. I found myself wondering who recommended this to me because they have completely discredited themselves. Thank goodness for Library Thing as I was able to make note that is was from Good Morning America's Summer Read spotlight from Jane Magazine.
jaspezia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this gorgeously written story of Toby and Lou and their life in Cape Cod. Sounds so simple. Prose so rich.
THEPRINCESS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received a recommendation on this from my aunt and we usually like the same kind of books, but I had a real problem with this one. After around page 100 I told her I was going to quit reading but she begged me to continue saying I wouldn't be sorry. But I am sorry. I could have been reading something really interesting. I just couldn't care what happened with Lou or Toby much less what Lou decides to do later in their lives. And the writing made me think of a poet "wanna be". Too much symbolism in a wavering format. Many times I had to re-read lines to try to figure out what was meant buy certain phrases.Some just didn't connect at all. Just too much work for what it was worth. Maybe it was written for loftier readers.
PattyAnn25 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reminds me of a long ago trip to Provincetown. Very different world from this one though. Excellent read.
tangledthread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an atmospheric love story of Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree in Provincetown. Their story begins shortly after World War II and moves forward in time. He's a poet and she's a painter. Their orbits merge in a community with loose social boundaries on Cape Cod. After 14 years of marriage and a child, there is a betrayal and 20 year separation. A reunion is brought about by failing health.The writing is more prose than narrative. The landscape of a peninsula in water is thematic in the story. The story challenges the reader to ponder love, solitude, acceptance, and the boundaries that we humans establish for ourselves.
DonnaB317 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite beautiful. The book is a poem, really. The images were beautiful and painful at the same time. I was sad when it ended.
markfinl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Maytrees is so beautifully written that it is a marvel to behold. It's hard to put into words of my own that would do the book justice. The story is about the lives of Lou and Toby Maytree, a couple who live on Cape Cod. There is a bare bones plot, that I won't spoil by reciting here, suffice it to say that it is about love and forgiveness, but the triumph of the book is its prose. It's the kind of book where you have to put it down often just to marvel. I could quote example after example, but even that would not do justice to the totality of the experience of reading this book. What keeps it from being a five star novel for me is that the narration seemed too detached for the intimacy of the story being told. I never thought that I was on the ground experiencing the story with the Maytrees. I felt as if I were observing the action from 20,000 feet.
DSeanW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lyrical and enjoyable but her nonfiction works sets the bar way to high.
Gwendydd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel chronicling the life of a married couple from their courtship to their death. Throughout their marriage, they both grapple with trying to understand what love is, and what life is all about. Dillard's writing style is very pithy - she uses very short sentences, and occasionally a sentence that seems totally unrelated to anything else. Because of this, I found her characters to be rather flat: I just never felt like I really understood any of them, and I couldn't understand their actions, much less their emotions. The writing is amazing, but I didn't enjoy the story or the characters.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really disliked this. I didn't like the plot line and I didn't think I was smart enough to read Dillard's prose, which is actually poetry. I'm not one to wade through symbolism, just lay out the story already! Most of her efforts were wasted on me, I'm afraid.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With descriptions such as "a clumsy beach" and "a greasy sky," Annie Dillard's "The Maytrees" is nothing if not poetic. This book is perhaps best described as the concept of a book; rather than a detailed rendering it is an impressionistic portrayal. In beautifully poetic language Dillard gives us glimpses into the lives and thoughts of a love triangle as Toby Maytree first marries quiet and reserved Lou Bigelow and then, after fourteen years of seemingly happy marriage, later moves to Maine with dynamic and colorful Deary. But the plot is the fuzzy background; foremost are the lush descriptions and bemusing dollops of insight that, swirling around the characters and the setting, make for a full and poignant story of love, loss and forgiveness.
MarianV on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Annie Dillard is one of my favorite authors. I enjoy reading about nature & Dillard's prose can turn the barest fact into poetry. THE MAYTREES also reads like a poem. The subjects are the substance of poetry --the sea, the shore, the tides, the starry sky above & the mud-flat swamps below. The problem with this novel is the story. A man & woman fall in love. They have a child, which they love. The man is a poet, at least part-time. They live in a house by the sea, on Cape Cod, by Provincetown, one of this country's most artistic places. We are shown how they love, each other & the beauty of the sea & shore. What we are not shown is how they are able to hurt each other & disrupt the life of their child. I had no sense at all as to why these people acted as they did, only that the man, the poet, was some how above the moral standards of everyone else. And his lady friend who was "Bohemian" in her antics was also excused. And the wife who bears the cost of this mis-adventure? She sails serenely along, we are never shown nor told any emotional reactions on onybodys part. Annie Dillard wrote another novel "The Living" which I tried to read, but had to stop reading because everytime I began to fell close to a character, they died. In this novel, the characters live long lives, but we never feel close to them at all. The writing, however, is beautiful -- very poetic.
LhLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very lyrical book. It took a litle to get back into how Annie Dillard writes - but I really enjoyed it. There was another review that described her stories as written in poetry, that seems to be a very apt description.
msbaba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard is a richly pleasing hybrid¿a transcendent mix of a book-length lyrical poem, spare unsentimental love story, and philosophical treatise on the nature of endearing marital love. It is linguistically seductive and unabashedly challenging¿a novel to be savored. I almost stopped reading because I was found myself repeatedly put off by Dillard¿s use of exquisite rhythmic and lyrical metaphors that I could not understand. She also loves to use antiquated words that I should have looked up in a dictionary but chose not to. Perhaps with a second reading, added by a dictionary, some hidden imagery and meaning will reveal itself. But I continued reading because I soon found myself too engaged in the story and mesmerized by the abundant fresh imagery to stop. Dillard clearly loves the English language and knows it better and deeper than most. She has a remarkable gift for using it in breathtaking and brazen new ways. I could feel my brain erupting with tiny explosions of glee every time new phrasing, sentence structure, and metaphors made their way from consciousness to imagery within my mind¿s eye.Throughout, the work depicts a deep love of place¿in this case the tip of Cape Cod, the famous artist¿s colony of Bohemian writers, musicians, painters, and poets. This is an unyielding, demanding landscape, awash in translucent light and natural beauty. The humans who thrive here¿who love this landscape with all their being¿are people who must accommodate themselves to its wild and harsh demands. This is the same message that Dillard has for us about the true nature of enduring marital love. It, too, makes wild and harsh demands. If we accommodate ourselves to our beloveds while still being fully true to ourselves, if we allow our beloveds to be fully true to themselves, if we accept our beloveds without judgment or blame, endearing love will follow. This book is not for everyone. But if you enjoy an intellectual and literary challenge, and already possess mature experience about enduring love, this book will transport you and touch your soul.
Mooose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not an easy book for me to read as I was wondering what the author wanted me to get out of it. Never became swept away into the language although the location was pulling me to the sea. After I finished I was thinking about it and decided she was writing about love, not your typical love story. Not an easy book to read or understand but full of lovely language and set in a beautiful place.
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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