Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard

There are some literary books, I have to admit, that aren't meant for me. I think of myself as omnivorous when it comes to books, reading many genres, many styles, fiction and non, and liking many unexpectedly. Then there are those with which I never can connect.

This is one of those books. It is written almost poetically, in short sentences and paragraphs, almost abruptly. Odd little bits are added to paragraphs, as if they are thrown in later, an afterthought.

It is a short book about the lives of Toby Maytree (always referred to as "Maytree") and Lou Bigelow (always called "Lou"), together and apart, from when they met to the end of their lives. It is about the nature of love, what it means to love, as well as the nature of life, what it means to live. The story is told in the third person and conversations are reported within paragraphs, usually without distinguishing punctuation. The effect, even though often the words are exact, was to me an effect of distance, as if I weren't really there hearing those words.

A paragraph:

Two years later they were dancing in the kitchen to "Lady be Good". Maytree turned down the radio and ran his notion by Lou. It is an unnameable boon love hauls down, that people rightly prize as the best of life, and for which it fusses over weddings. Not only will a cave-dwelling pair cull food and kill so kids thrive, but their feeling for each other, not to mention for the kids, brings something beyond food people need. Each felt it between them when they danced. It was real as anything the mind could know. Her eyes' crystal, her split-faced smile, agreed. He rolled the volume knob. Oh sweet and lovely.

I never really got to know them, although I had a general feeling I did not like Maytree and I somewhat liked Lou, what I could grasp of her. I was irritated by the names and means of some of their companions - Deary and Reevadare, for example, for no reason I can name. I simply never connected. I have read other reviews by those who so loved this book that they read it twice. I am missing what they have, and am perhaps poorer for it. I hope this book finds another like that.


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

some books aren't just meant for us no matter how hard we try. Some may get other things, which we may never know. I like your candid opinion on this. I am hearing of this book for the first time here. Thanks.

Teri K said...

I agree with you. I love some of her books, but not this one.

There's a reason we use conventions like quotation marks and standard paragraphing, you know. They allow the reader to ignore the writing on the page and enter into the intent of the author. When a writer chooses to ignore standard writing conventions, they run the risk of distracting the reader. (I'm not saying this very well.)

For example, I just came from a 3-D movie. I enjoyed it a lot, but I'm not used to wearing glasses, and the feel of them on my face, as well as the black look of the frames, kept distracting me. Instead of being absorbed in the story, I found myself thinking "I'm watching a 3-D movie." I think that's part of what happened here.

Thanks for the honest review. They're so hard to find.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deb said...

I agree with you Teri. When the writing itself becomes a distraction, I think you lose the reader. At least, they lose me. I want to hear the story, not navigate around pretentious writing. Just my opinion.

Judith said...

Thanks for all of your comments. I sometimes feel like I am wandering around all alone! But not here.