The novel opens in Provincetown, Massachusetts, just after the Second World War. Toby Maytree, a thirty-year-old poet and part-time house-mover, meets Lou Bigelow, a recent college graduate, who dabbles in painting. After a short courtship, they fall in love and settle into Provincetown, which will be the center of the rest of their lives. They quickly adapt to a bohemian lifestyle, surrounded by an array of offbeat characters. Like most of their friends, they are too fond of their free time to settle for steady jobs. Before long, a son, Petie, arrives. Their free-spirited neighbor, Deary, a deeply maternal soul, spends a good deal of time caring for Petie. After fourteen idyllic years together, Toby becomes disillusioned and runs away to Maine with Deary. Lou recovers from the devastating emotional and psychological shock and stays the course in Provincetown raising Petie. When he reaches young adulthood, he finds solace working as a fisherman, the one thing his father dreaded he would do. Finally, after decades, Toby returns to beg Lou for a special favor that only she can manage.
Dillard’s intimate knowledge of nature shines in the outstandingly written novel. Through a style that is as consistently expressive as it is transparent, she details the inner and outer journey through life of the Maytrees and their satellite of friends. She wraps it all up with two brilliantly written death scenes that describe, in context, a lyrical balance of life and death. This is a truly exceptional novel of people in and out of time.