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THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard


by Annie Dillard & Annie Dillard

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1989
ISBN: 0060919884
Publisher: Harper & Row

From the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Teaching a Stone to Talk, etc., a mosaic of essays on writers and writing, shimmering here and there with a lovely phrase, a bit of sage advice, but often done in by overwrought imagery and overheated views. "When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe"--so begins the text, revealing at once Dillard's penchant for rhythmic repetition and blunt, down-to-earth, Anglo-Saxon language. She's at her best when she keeps it simple--describing her cluttered desk, her pine study (a prefab toolshed), the time her electric typewriter exploded. The physicality of the writer's life--mounds of paper, "refried coffee"--appeals to her and, through her enthusiasm, to us. Good, too, are the little anecdotes of her daily walks, and of other writers' schedules. On the other hand, only the most placid of readers will fail to fidget during the patches of strangely sloppy prose, including banal observations ("putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating"); suffocating alliteration ("the reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses. . ."); perplexing inaccuracies ("out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year"); and (presumably inadvertent) parodies of Melville ("the page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly. . ."). To top it off, Dillard's technique of juxtaposing apparently disconnected little essay fragments, which in the past has at times led to unexpected richness of insight, in this book leads largely to head-scratching. Happily, Dillard winds up with a graceful essay about a brilliant stunt pilot whose daring twists and rolls provide an apt metaphor for the writing life. This, plus her undeniable authority when discussing the miseries and joys that attend the world of pen and ink, makes this slim volume, if not a triumph, at least worth the read.