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The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Hosted by Elizabeth McCracken
Began on July 20, 2020

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Like all of my favorite books, The Maytrees is hard to describe: its plot is time, really, but it's about empathy and marriage and divorce and love and the consolations of art. It begins with the courtship of Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree, who marry and move to Provincetown and become the eponymous Maytrees (other Maytrees follow) and it's full of remarkable characters and remarkable sentences. Some slim novels are spare and clean (I love those, too) but The Maytrees is crammed full, like an old New England house filled with geegaws and books and bricabrac. Above all, it is an intensely beautiful book.

Elizabeth McCracken

is the author of seven books. Her eighth, The Hero of this Book, will be published in October 2022.

Annie Dillard

is an American author whose books include The Maytrees, For the Time Being, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. 

Daily Reading

Day 1

Prologue & Preface to page 9 (through "She was outside his reach.")

July 23, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Ordinarily I dislike prologues, especially ones that dispense geological & historic information. Just start the book! But the first sentence, in its simplicity & mystery, softens my heart & makes me listen. —Elizabeth

Day 2

Pages 11-29 (through "The more she saw of the Provincetown school, the more she favored grisailles.")

July 24, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

A relief to shift into Lou’s head at the top of page 11. I believe utterly in Maytree, but I find—as Lou herself does—that he takes up a lot of the oxygen. —Elizabeth

Day 3

Pages 31-43 (through "Maytree was tall, and Sooner was strong as Babe Ruth.")

July 25, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Dillard knows you know the antecedents to these pronouns. —Elizabeth

Day 4

Pages 45-59 (through "Perhaps, she asked later, he never did?")

July 26, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

The 3rd person narrator, when it comes to Maytree (I never think of him as Toby) is so subtle. On page 45, he asks Lou a question, & she agrees—only with her smile & eyes. He has an enormous ego which Dillard gets at from the inside. —Elizabeth

Day 5

Start of Part I, pages 61-74 (through "Goodnight, Lou.")

July 27, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Part One begins with an accident: Petie, broken in Maytree’s arms, the start of a lot of broken things. —Elizabeth

Day 6

Pages 75-89 (through "She should have lashed her elbows and knees, like Aletus.")

July 28, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

And now we step back in time, & in Maytree’s own head hear of his love for Deary, to whom he’s bound, & his regret. Dillard’s subject is love: she knows how often human beings screw it up. —Elizabeth

Day 7

Pages 91-103 (including “interlude," through "Or was she of this earth, earthy?")

July 29, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

I myself climbed the Pilgrim Monument every day for a while as a form of contemplation in the early 90s. I’m not so good or thoughtful as Lou, but it’s an excellent monument. —Elizabeth

Day 8

Pages 105-119 (through "An unfair sample.")

July 30, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Is there a more chilling detail of a loving marriage than one spouse annotating the other’s letters? No offense to those of you posed with your beloveds in your avatars, but: brrrrr. —Elizabeth

Day 9

Pages 121-133 ("In the meantime she cleared the landing strip.")

July 31, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Time is one of Dillard’s topics, but how it changes us & how it doesn’t, what’s bound to erode & what’s utterly insoluble. —Elizabeth

Day 10

Start of Part II, pages 135-152 (through "He fell asleep.")

August 1, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Of all the obscure words Dillard deploys, tatterdemalion is perhaps my favorite, & wonderfully used in this four word sentence. Beautiful, surprising: extravagance set in simplicity. —Elizabeth

Day 11

Pages 153-171 (through "Do you believe it?")

August 2, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Lovely to see a mention of Mary Heaton Vorse here, author of Time and the Town, which could be the title for this book, too. Her house in Provincetown has just been turned into an art center. —Elizabeth

Day 12

Start of Part III, pages 173-198 (through "Her inquiry was: What did she hope?")

August 3, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Deary, with her yellow & blue hands, her jewelry, her Harris tweed, is the most physically vivid character in the book. She is a Love Object. —Elizabeth

Day 13

Pages 199-216 (The End)

August 4, 2020 by Elizabeth McCracken

Suddenly, an epigraph, & this time I think the antecedents to these pronouns are purposefully unclear, though we can hope we know. —Elizabeth

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