The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

June has been a terrible reading month. I have been out-of-sorts, for one thing, and for another, I will go ahead and admit it: I think I read Harry Potter too soon. Because I don’t want to read other books now. I only want one book, and I want some answers, and if I don’t get those answers, I am going to be very cross, and, oh, wait, I am very cross anyway, all the time, so if you could give me the answers at least I would stop eating chocolate and creme brulee. I’ve been kicking it into gear with the speculating and the theories, and I should really stop, because looking ahead like that makes me feel that the world around me does not meet my very specific requirements. I am greatly dissatisfied these days.

And I’ve been dissatisfied with books, which isn’t necessarily like me. I go through phases of book dissatisfaction. I feel like I have been more picky than usual these days.

So: Annie Dillard. I like Annie Dillard very much. She says things and just blows me away. So I was, to put it mildly, looking forward to this book. I have never read one of her novels. And yet, what a time to read it, in a period of great dissatisfaction.

The Maytrees reminded me, a little bit, of Gilead (which I mentioned here and here). I must confess, Pulitzer or not, I didn’t care for Gilead, even though I couldn’t say enough about the beauty of the writing. The Maytrees, though it wasn’t explicitly about faith like Gilead, is a beautifully written book on . . . forgiveness, relationships, redemption. Life. It was so beautiful, you guys. It took me several days, even though it clocks in at just over 200 pages. I kept having to stop and take it in.

To drive her mental cylinders Lou climbed to and up Pilgrim Monument daily in every weather. Sometimes she entered fog. From the monument’s top she loosed Maytree [her husband, who has hurt her] like sand. She saw the sand drop onto roofs and yards. After only seven or eight weeks’ relinquishing Maytree, she saw the task would take practice, like anything else. She planned to work at it for a year, shedding every grain of claim. After seven months she had what she called “a grip on letting go.” When anything unwise arose in her henceforth, she attended to it by climbing the monument, at whose top she opened her palm.

That’s not just a paragraph in a book. That’s a guide to life, a textbook. How to Live. I read it, put the book down, went to bed, and didn’t read again until lunch the next day. Not because I was tired of the book, just because I had to let it really take hold. That’s not to say that everything in the book is exactly the way that life should go, or that the ways that people forgive and continue living and loving in this book are the ways that we should all choose. Just that I found Lou’s story of choosing life instead of bitterness very moving. I hope one day to be able to live in the same kind of wisdom that she does.

I won’t recommend this to everyone, because it is kind of dense, and it’s not just . . . summer beach reading. It’s not about the story as much as it’s about the characters and the language. If you’re in the mood for something with a little more substance, give this a try, especially if you are a language person.

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