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AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD by Annie Dillard Kirkus Star


by Annie Dillard

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1987
ISBN: 0060915188
Publisher: Harper & Row

Dillard's headlong immersion into the mysteries of the natural world--from bedrocks to the heavens, and flora and fauna (from amoebas to us)--places this childhood memoir of life with a companionable family in Pittsburgh's elite enclave in the 50's and 60's. There is less tugging at the rare insight, the wild surmise, as in, say, Dillard's Teaching the Stone to Talk (1982), and this bright, imaginative whack through the "overgrown path" back to the past is more accessible to the general reader. Awareness is all to Dillard. To the tot, "mindless and eternal," playing on the kitchen floor, will come, in the roaring flood of time, "the breakthrough shift between seeing, and knowing you see." Aware as the dickens, Dillard found that everything in the world is "an outcrop of some vast vein of knowledge." The child Dillard will read books "to delirium," investigate rocks and insects, "pry open a landscape" with a microscope, draw faces, and just because it felt marvelous, pretend to fly, arms flapping, clown a Pittsburgh main street. In between accounts of such fabulous flights and efforts of concentration which "draw you down so very deep," there are delightful portraits of a set of attractive parents (shameless connoisseurs of jokes, both ancient and practical) and not unaffectionate views of Pittsburgh's Old Guard, at Country Club play to actually praying (to teen-ager Dillard's angry astonishment) in sables and tailcoats, in their gold-plated church). There are tales of mischief-making, dances and boys, school and the fine and splendid rages of adolescence ("I was a dog barking between my own ears"). Throughout, Dillard rumples up the placid life. An overview of one particular childhood told with shiver and bounce, and another Dillard voyage of discovery as she continues to "break up through the skin of awareness . . .as dolphins burst through the seas. . ."