Sunday, September 9, 2007

Love, Stars, Provincetown

Annie Dillard's new book, The Maytrees, is a long prose poem about love. If you read it, you will learn something about that lofty topic, and you will learn about why Provincetown is a unique place on this earth--a place I come to once a year for a week, like a religious sojourn, just for (I'll say it!) the light, and something more unnameable, but it smells like freedom. I am in Provincetown right now, as I write this. But I digress, and she wouldn't. Because after learning about love, and about Provincetown, you will learn about the craft of writing, and that is indeed, for a writer at least, a good reason to read.

You may want to throw the book across the room. It is short, but it is not simple. It is spare, but it is not light. The sentences are simple in form, but layered with meaning. The syntax is yogic: it bends and stretches the rules, but doesn't break them. Sometimes her prose seems chiseled or sculpted, and this is deliberate on her part. She says as much in an interview with Scott Simon when she reveals that she will never write another book unless it's in cuneiform, and this is for a few reasons. First she feels that writing on a computer leads to digression and prolixity, and second she reveals that her hands are stricken with an ailment that makes writing longhand or typing impossible. In an amusing anecdote she reveals that one of her earlier books was going to be made into a books-on-tape. Originally it was going to take eight tapes. The publishers cut it down to four, and sent her the proposed manuscript. She was surprised to find that it was a better book. Similarly, she whittled The Maytrees down from 1,200 pages to just over 200, a process, she reveals, that just about "killed her." In the end, she says, she cut out everything that didn't have something to do with the love of the main characters Lou and Maytree. And, she confesses, she left in a bit about the Cape.

Thank god for that, because she is best, and most famous for, creating a sense of place that is at once naturalistic and metaphysical in the best sense--an exploration of the connectedness of things.

I've not said much about the book here, other than it is a love story. I think that's enough: a love story set in Provincetown, spanning several decades, with a full cast of bohemians and thinkers. The setting and plot are secondary to the meditation on the types of love: sensual, sexual, parental, romantic.

She says she will not write another book, that this one nearly killed her, that her body simply can't do it. I think if she told that to her characters Maytree or Lou, they would laugh: if writing is like love, and I think it is, you have no idea what you will do next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

loved your post about Annie Dillard Recommended this book to the guys' (Ken, Scott, etc) book group ...told Ken it's as if James Michener woke up one day and COULD WRITE! such rich narration/observation of the natural world...look forward to seeing you on Saturday in SR