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The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
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Apr 13, 08

Read in April, 2008

Annie Dillard is simply the best living creative non-fiction writer. She has the rare ability to put common experiences and abstract emotions into words, and the structure and beauty of her sentences are pretty well unrivaled. If you don’t believe me, pick up An American Childhood or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – both books about everyday experiences that Dillard makes wondrous. Over the years, I think I’ve read every nonfiction book she’s written.

Still, can she write fiction? The Maytrees is her second fictive effort after The Living and the only novel by Dillard that I’ve read. It follows a couple who lives on Cape Cod through the 50 years of their relationship and explores how and why people love. The couple has a child, the man runs away with another woman, the other woman dies, the man comes back. Nothing revolutionary plot-wise.

First, let me say I liked it. The description of Provincetown is lovely and Dillard does what she does best: dissects little moments and little thoughts and puts words to feelings that we’ve never been able to find words for. Her sentences are as lovely as always and the story almost has the feel of a long poem.

On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that fiction isn’t Dillard’s strong suit. The largest problem I had involved simply understanding the story – much more attention is put toward how things are going on instead of what’s going on. There were many passages I had to read twice just to get the logistics of what was happening, and I don’t think Dillard meant for it to be confusing. There were several places were the numbers simply didn’t work (the main character’s age is wrong in several places, for instance, which immediately throws me out the reality of the world she’s created) and there were several places that didn’t make sense for hundreds of places (one passage in the first ten pages makes you think that a character is murdered, when in fact she dies of old age 200 pages later) and again, these confusing bits of writing didn’t seem to be there on purpose.

In the end, if you’re an Annie Dillard fanatic, this is worth picking up, just to be in awe of some of her sentences and to read her descriptions of the New England Coast. If you haven’t read much Dillard, I might skip this one in favor of one of her nonfiction books – although it isn’t unenjoyable, it does show that Dillard is much better at exploring our own world than at creating her own.
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Maria Hill Love her sentences.

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