cover image The Maytrees

The Maytrees

Annie Dillard, . . HarperCollins, $24.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-06-123953-3

Lou Bigelow meets her husband-to-be, Toby Maytree, when Toby returns to Provincetown following WWII. In the house Lou inherits from her mother, they read, cook soup, play games with friends, vote and raise a child. Toby writes poetry and does odd jobs; Lou paints. Their unaffected bohemianism fits right in with the Provincetown landscape, which Dillard, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , describes with an offhand but deep historical sense. Years into the marriage, Toby suddenly decamps to Maine with another local woman, Deary Hightoe; flash forward six years to Lou reading Toby's semimonthly letters (and Deary's marginal notes) "with affectionate interest." Dillard, stripping the story to bare facts-plus-backdrop, is after something beyond character and beyond love, though she evokes Lou and Toby's beautifully. Thus, when Deary's heart falters 20 years later and Toby brings her home to Lou for hospice care, Lou puts up water for tea and gets going. She feels too much, not too little, for mere drama, although people who don't know her misread her. In short, simple sentences, Dillard calls on her erudition as a naturalist and her grace as poet to create an enthralling story of marriage—particular and universal, larky and monumental. (June)