On my second read of The Maytrees in four weeks, I’m slowly ingesting the writing. Here are six things I learned, or was reminded of, by reading Annie Dillard [spoiler alert]:
1) To add telling to showing with an unexpected sentence:
“Their intimacy’s height so far was drinking from the same canteen.”
2) To use images:
“Affixed to Deary was six-year-old Marie Koday, fist like a clothespin on Deary’s skirts.”
“In her company he wrapped himself in misery like a robe.”
“She found herself holding one end of a love.”
3) To choose actions that add tension and say more than words:
“Brandy he drinks? The tenth-anniversary-present brandy from four years ago we’ve sipped on Christmas mornings only?”
4) To use humor to deflect melodrama:
“Never her Maytree, who loved her, as he just unsaid.”
“If this was not shaping up to be Maytree’s finest hour, it might as well be hers.”
5) To think associatively and let what the character sees reflect her state of mind:
“Do not drive in breakdown lane, said the Route six signs. Do not break down in driving lane. The sea poured over the stone lip at Gibraltar and emptied.”
6) To use echos:
Petie: “Did his brain contain a pack of selves like Musketeers, each smaller and farther back and waving a sword?”
Lou (11 pages later): “How she wished she could see all those displaced Petes and Peties once more!
Final post on The Maytrees (for the foreseeable future anyway) coming up: the relationship of structure to content
Dillard is definitely not for everyone, but when I read all her work for a class in grad school, I really started to appreciate her and the density of her prose. Definitely not for the light reader looking for a quick fix, but Dillard always left me feeling like I’d experienced something special. I haven’t read The Maytrees, and with what i’ve got going on right now it’s doubtful I’ll find the time to digest it any time soon. I love being able to read about it here though. Thanks for sharing so much of the experience with all of us.
Barb, someone else mentioned the density of her prose, and I really felt that quality this go round. I appreciate your letting me know that it’s possible to enjoy these posts without having read the book. And I’m so excited about all that’s going on with you : )
You’re right—there’s nothing fast about Dillard. She’s best taken in small bites, slowly digested. As you’ve done here. Thanks for reminding me of this memorable book. I knew even as I read it that I was going too quickly, damned impatience.
Nichole, isn’t it interesting how some books you can just zip through. I don’t mean bad books. I mean well-written books that just read fast. The words are good. The story’s good. But there’s nothing underneath or between the words. And then there are others, like The Maytrees, that when we try to read quickly, we miss so much.
I just added The Maytrees to my Goodreads “to read” list. I love reading a good story crafted and beautifully written.
The Maytrees qualifies, Terresa. Let me know what you think when you get a chance to read it.