Annie Dillard has written 11 books, including the memoir of her parents, An American Childhood, the Northwest pioneer epic The Living, and the nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In this beautifully written novel, she charts the mysteries of love and marriage.
Toby Maytree is a poet and part-time carpenter who is very much taken with Lou Bigelow, a painter whose beauty resembles Ingrid Bergman's. After they marry, they settle down in Cape Cod, spending the summer months in a shack by the water and the winters in a house inherited from Lou's mother. Together between them they read about 300 books a year and get along nicely without a car, phones, or television. Maytree and Lou are nonconformists who live in their own world. Dillard notes of them: "Nothing about them was rich except their days swollen with time." They have a son and spend their time as best they can in the swirl of wind and sun.
But Toby's restlessness, a quality his wife finds endearing, gets the better of him after 14 years of marriage. He leaves her for Deary, a woman six years older than Lou with a degree in architecture from MIT. She has already been married three times before. Dillard briefly charts their adventures over the next 20 years while Lou continues to live as a loner in the Cape Cod community. No one knows what to make of her, and so they don't expend much effort.
The closing events of the novel bring Maytree and Lou together in a way that neither one of them expects. What happens signals Dillard's great respect for the mystery of love and the human personality. We get a sense of this in a sentence: "Half his life he had sounded her and never struck bottom."