"I cannot cause light...the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam." Annie Dillard
I took another turn at bat with author, Annie Dillard, recently, and struck out. At the risk of abrading fans, and in defiance of acclaiming reviews, I believe much of her work to be overrated (duck!). I take this stand on pretty thin ice, way out in left field, all alone, a self-admitted incompetent word-pusher if there ever was one. But I can read. Maybe it's a gender thing, rearing it's ugly head.
It took hip-boots to wade Tinker Creek; "too much science, I don't understand." But I keep trying, now slogging through "American Childhood," a rather average-bordering-on-tedious, autobiographical effort where the reader gets a glimpse into her effusive style and bizarre imagination. The story oozes along, beginning with Annie as a five year old egocentric child around which the universe spins. She slowly evolves—at the speed of Darwin—to a more outward mindset of "others," and shrinks slightly at the realization of being a common speck-on-a-planet amid the ordinariness of suburban, 1950's Pittsburg.
Annie's parents have money, which is always nice, so at least she doesn't go wanting... a nice way of saying, she lived a somewhat upper class un-suffering, if not, sheltered life. Here's her "riveting" account: "I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again." Sigh.
If you are an insomniac, "American Childhood" is among the best sleeping pills I've ever had; knocks me right out every night in less than 10 minutes. Long unbridled sentences test verbal agility and the bounds of attention span, as she commas and free-verses along whimsical meandering paths on her way into Guinness Book of World Records. I thought one of Dillard's one-sentence paragraphs could literally stand alone as a novella, what with subplots and everything but the kitchen sink and a beating heart (a la Dr. Frankenstein: It's alive...It's alive...It's alive...It's alive!).
Another problem I have with Dillard is "rhythm," or cadence. Daily life is fraught with enough hurdles, so I don't really care for books with obstacle-course syntax where one loses the point. It's a common criticism, to be honest, often directed my way, and rightly so. (see what I mean?).
When reading becomes "wading," I'm tempted to put it down. It feels like such a waste of precious time, sleep, and energy. Problem is, if you do that with Dillard, you risk missing out on some golden nuggets that, at minimum, affects your day, and, possibly, the rest of your life.
Allow me to step back in the batter's box and take a swing at redemption: The woman can turn a phrase; pregnant, poignant, powerful. She understands "life" because, in spite of her pampered upbringing, Annie has suffered at the hands of her craft... as all writers/artists do. Listen to her: "You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page. The page is jealous and tyrannical...the page always wins." Art is hard! Otherwise everyone would be artists. Oh she's in touch with reality, alright, sometimes too in touch...as if she's God, and knows my unrighteous heart.
But who am I to question intelligent minds that flit at the speed of light? Look for those small quiet places between Dillard's "confetti parades" of mindless free verse. Read "between the lines," where she surrenders lucid nuggets that rock you back on your heels. Wade forward, upstream, for within the juxtaposition of torturous verbosity and confetti lies the "soul-of-wit brevity" of little "gems," hidden, like the old ruse of a golden ring packaged in an appliance box full of corn curls.
Rewards are often proportional to the work.
Now I submit for your consideration a few of my favorite Annie Dillard Nuggets:
You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page. The page is jealous and tyrannical...the page always wins.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.
Write about winter in the summer.
You can't test courage cautiously.
Remember everything...go through life like a plankton net.
The writer studies literature...careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.
Write as if you were dying...and your audience is too.
All my books started out as extravagant and ended up pure and plain.
If you're going to publish a book, you probably are going to make a fool of yourself.
We owed it to God to develop our talents.
And one that bears repeating, the one that keeps me digging through Annie's piles of prosaic tailings in search of that "ring:"
I cannot cause light...the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.
That's my review. Keep in mind that, Critical Acclaim is an oxymoron, and so am I.
Finally, a few more shots from this past winter's wonderings...
Peace out, brothers and sisters, and do a little "it's the weekend" dance.
mark and bobbie