TEACHING A STONE TO TALK by Annie Dillard

TEACHING A STONE TO TALK

Expeditions And Encounters

KIRKUS REVIEW

Again, combining metaphorical leaps with side-of-the-mouth aphorisms and plain-song, Dillard celebrates moments of spiritual comfort and unease--not in sustained meditations here (as in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Holy the Firm), but in a variety of encounters with animals, stars, vegetation, and people. She watches a gloriously-described weasel ("a muscled ribbon") go for the throat; in the Ecuadorian jungle she sees a captured deer in agony; she recalls a Miami man who was burned horribly twice; and rather than try to reconcile these things with God's existence, she usually accepts them . . . as the way things are, as Mystery. God--or something--is vividly present, however, in a viewing (with screams) of the total solar eclipse: "It was as though an enormous, loping god in the sky had reached down and slapped the earth's face." And God is there in Dillard's frequent Silences: a silent field swirling with angels; the particular silence that fills the room of a man who has devoted his life to teaching a stone to talk. ("The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God's brooding over the face of the waters. . . .") But: is God there in church, in organized religion? That, again, is one of Dillard's preoccupations. So she encounters a little boy drilled in Fundamentalism, later ponders the anti-Darwinism (unnecessary, she thinks) of Creationists. And, in one of the longer pieces, Dillard sees a bumbling Catholic church service ("God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter") as analagous to the search-for-the-sublime of the Polar explorers: "What are the chances that God finds our failed impersonation of human dignity adorable? Or is he fooled? What odds do you give me?" Here, however, the metaphor is cruelly belabored. And, throughout, Dillard's sharp images occasionally slide over into elevated greeting-card verbiage, while her salutary undercutting remarks can quite often become precious. Still: a collection of meditations like polished stones-painstakingly worded, tough-minded yet partial to Mystery, and peerless when it comes to injecting larger resonances into the natural world.
Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1982
ISBN: 0060915412
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1982




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