Friday, February 6, 2009

A book to revisit much later.

I just finished The Maytrees, Annie Dillard's supposed last novel. (Right under the midnight mark!) I started it back in January before I went back to NY and then didn't finish it for a long time. In fact, I stopped right around when the novel takes a turn, so you could say I read it in two separate parts.

The book is slow, thoughtful, beautiful. I sometimes have trouble with books written the way Dillard has written hers - there is a lot of detail and beautiful abstraction that I don't quite grasp, mostly because I'm used to speeding through my books without taking time to digest individual sentences. However, I found that once I slowed down, I began to appreciate the book a lot more. This book is actually extremely touching and poignant, in a very quiet, understated way. And (and tell me what it is about these New England writers that they're able to do this so well!) the whole thing felt like a beautiful trip to the seaside, with the remorse that goes with it when the sun finally gives way to night.

The book is about love and life. No, really it is. The quietness of the book balances well with the scope of it. The interesting thing to me is that I understood the earlier sections of the book better, because they were things I could relate to. But towards the end, as we get to the twilight of their years, I found myself more and more lost - not that the writing became confusing or anything - but that the metaphors and descriptions used became more and more unfamiliar to me. And I suspect that these are themes that, because I can only imagine at, and have barely thought about myself, don't touch me nearly as deeply, and so the more abstract moments are harder for me to connect with. I do think this is a book I'll want to revisit in a few years, when I'm older perhaps.

I had a bit of trouble reconciling that the major dramatic event of the husband running off with the friend, was dealt with in such a quiet manner, and ultimately forgiven easily. But I also suspect that this is because in my short short life, I cannot fathom the kind of peace one might be able to develop over 20 years. While the angry me wanted some sort of justice met, it seemed appropriate that this love was complex enough that it allowed for quiet forgiveness. And I can only hope that I mature in such a graceful way.

There are quite a few passages I read that I felt were worth noting - however, in my first half of reading, I didn't have flags with me (and I don't write or dogear my books), so now I've forgotten. But a few from the second half:

What gave adults the cheer to tolerate their hypocrisy? Even his mother praised generosity and hoarded; she preached industry and barely worked. Perhaps every generation passes to the next, to hand down to yet more children, an untouched trunk of virtues. The adults describe the trunk's contents to the young and never open it.
--[pg. 96, The Maytrees]

Early with Lou , then with Deary, and again now, he returned to this: Why can love, love apparently absolute, recur? And recur? Why does love feel it is - know for certain it is - eternal and absolute, every time?
--[pg. 127, The Maytrees]

And forgiveness had nothing to do with it. They were both whole people, he and Lou. Whole old people. At their age forgiveness could be child's play if you knew the ropes, and so could be the nod that accepted forgiveness of course and moved on. Young, he would have thought any end, even dying, beat being forgiven, let alone by a woman, and beat asking for help, too, let alone asking the wife he left for help. Now he and Lou - if Lou was like Pete, whom he more wronged - could meet as equals. His asking would honor her goodness. His willingness to ask was part of what he now knew best: to think well of those you have wronged, let alone those who have wronged you. He hoped Lou's thinking had brought her there, too. He really hoped. Just till Deary died.
--[pg. 152, The Maytrees]

I did quite enjoy this book and would recommend it for people who can be patient and slowly absorb the richness of this book. I definitely want to revisit it again at a later point too, when hopefully some of the later text will resonate with me stronger.

Oh wait. I found a couple passages from the earlier part of the book I want to add:

He fell in love with Lou again and again. Walking, he held her hand. She seemed, then and now, to roll or float over the world evenly, acting and giving and taking, never accelerating, never slowing, wearing a slip of red or blue scarf. Her mental energy and endurance matched his. She neither competed nor rebelled. Her freedom strengthened him, as did her immeasurable reserve. Often she seemed the elder. She opened their house to everyone. Actively, she accepted what came to her, like a well-sailed sloop with sea room. Her face was an organ of silence. That he did not possess her childhood drove him wild. Who was this imposter she sang with in college - how dare he?

Their intimacy flooded. Love like a tide either advances or retreats, Maytree opined into a recent notebook. Their awarenesses rode waves paired like outriggers. Maytree thought Plato wrong: physical senses and wordless realms neither diverge or oppose; they meet as nearest neighbors in the darkness of personality and embrace.
--[pg. 46, The Maytrees]

-Until you have a baby, her mohter had said, you don't know what love is! Her mother volunteered this on the day of Lou's one and only wedding. -Oh, Lou wanted to say, go soak your head. After Lou brought forth Petie, she at once recalled her mother's words, forgave, and endorsed them. That her mother was so often right no longer irked her. As she would never irk Petie, now joyful in her arms. He sucked her nose. Later his pointy fingers made faces with her face. She never put him down. She must feel his skin on her, feel his cranium in her arm's crook, his belly on her belly, and smell his breath, his scalp, etc., etc. He obviously felt the same way. They were pieces of each other foully parted. When they had to separate, she took ever-deeper breaths as if air had no use. Her sternum and her ventral torso and arms ached. Maytree had some horseshoe magnets in the kitchen. She gave each a wrench to hold.
--[pg. 49, The Maytrees]

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