Vibrant, vigorous, and weird
Here are some sentences to ponder about Annie Dillard. She may be the finest American essayist of our time. She wrote one of the five best memoirs I’ve ever read. She wrote one indisputable masterpiece, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and perhaps another, For the Time Being (although I notice that people either adore or detest the latter, which is fascinating). She has published novels, poems, and books that defy easy labels, including Holy the Firm and Teaching a Stone to Talk.
Annie Dillard writes unlike any other writer who ever wrote. Isn’t that a remarkable sentence? But it’s true; and it’s part of what makes her one of the finest American writers ever. She is as riveting, piercing, startling, and lyrical a spiritual (and Christian, though she ducks the label) writer as I have ever read.
She has also not published a new book in a decade, for whatever reason, which gives The Abundance a higher profile than a collection of selected essays generally might. This book is a miscellany that includes stunners, like “The Weasel”—as soaring and powerful a brief essay as there is—and lesser contemplations like pieces on Disneyland and the South Pole. Three selections are from Tinker Creek, four from Teaching a Stone to Talk, seven from her wonderful and often very funny memoir, An American Childhood. But the book as a whole suffers from the inherent vice of collections, which is to say an inconsistency of tone. The two essays included here that are not from her previously published books are slight things. A reader who has never read a word of Dillard might be better off plunging headlong into the sumptuous feast of Tinker Creek rather than picking at the appetizers in The Abundance.