A collection of essays that serve as a solid introduction to a writer blessed with an all-consuming consciousness steeped in both faith and science.
Over the span of a 40-year career, Dillard has written memoirs (An American Childhood, 1987, etc.) and novels (The Maytrees, 2007, etc.), but she is perhaps best known for her nonfiction narratives, which are personal and deeply aware. “It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open” she writes in an essay excerpted here from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner that made her a literary celebrity at the age of 29. “Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children. Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot?” Over the four decades since the publication of Pilgrim, the author’s vision has only sharpened. Seeing a trapped deer (“The Deer at Providencia”) raises the eternal question of suffering. In “The Weasel,” Dillard contrasts an encounter between a thinking animal and a reactive one. She’s at her best when seeing the world in a grain of sand, or billions of them; the essay “Sand” is also about prehistoric life and the Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who devoted his life to uncovering it. A similar juxtaposition of micro and macro is at work in “An Expedition to the Pole,” in which Dillard compares dual approaches to the infinite: Arctic exploration and Catholic Mass. The author gives insight into her own craft in her advice to younger writers: don’t bank your fire. “Don’t hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or another book; give it, give it all, give it now,” she writes.
From the vantage point of her 70th year, this collection is a testament to a lifetime of doing just that.