Ben's Reviews > Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
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Aug 01, 10

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Read in July, 2010

An accurate synopsis of good portions of this book might be as follows: descriptions of unusual and unmistakably grotesque insect behaviors delivered amidst often overly poetic observations of nature. Yet, while that might describe a sizable chunk of the work, it does not do justice to the rest of the book.

If the sometimes insubstantial prose can be ignored, the book reveals a unique perspective about what life (in the most profound, universal sense) is and how life might be as seen by a young twenty-seven year old woman living by herself in the woods of Tinker Creek. If approached with the mindset that this is almost a partial autobiography (rather than a collection of essays about nature or philosophy) then there is a lot more to be gained from this book. With that prejudice in mind, it is sometimes easier to see past what the words are saying to the enthusiasm behind those words and to the core of what they are trying to say.

At its shakiest, the book may warrant a review like Annie Dillard's own comments about another author: "He may not be right, but I like his adjectives." As a similar criticism of Tinker Creek, I might say the sentences sometimes outrun their meaning. Here's one of the more extreme examples:

Here is the word from a subatomic physicist: "Everything that has already happened is particles, everything in the future is waves." Let me twist his meaning. Here it comes. The particles are broken; the waves are translucent, laving, roiling with beauty like sharks. The present is the wave that explodes over my head, flinging the air with particles at the height of its breathless unroll; it is the live water and light that bears from undisclosed sources the freshest news, renewed and renewing, world without end.


There's something noteworthy in the attempt at profundity here; yet, I think in trying to poetically tie together quantum mechanics, an earlier story about sharks she saw in the ocean, and a religious sounding timelessness - the meaning may have been twisted too far and, well, disappeared. Is the above paragraph actually saying anything? That's the feel of the book at its lower points.

At its best though, are the simple theses which lay between and behind the ebullient prose. My favorite, which might characterize the voice of the author at its best, is hidden in later chapters: "Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."
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Quotes Ben Liked

Annie Dillard
“The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Comments (showing 1-2)




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Zalman This comes closest to my own impressions of the book, in both its strengths and weaknesses. I would agree almost point for point.


David Of the many reviews of PATC on GR yours, as another person has said, seems to gently grasp the somewhat over-earnest aspects of Dillard's ambitions. Your critique is however, generous and doesn't detract from the book's essential merits. Look, she was 27. Youth dwells in idealism even, it appears, if you're brilliant. The lowest points of PATC are forgivable. Dillard rocked it.


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