sarah gilbert's Reviews > Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
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Feb 21, 10

bookshelves: will-re-read-and-re-read
Read from January 24 to February 19, 2010

I read Annie Dillard's 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek' with a dictionary and a stack of poetry books at my elbow and, in it, the margins are as full of pencilled notes as my biggest and most-loved literary anthology. And in it is everything, sentences so packed with beauty and rhythm and Biblical references they scan like poems: "What blood is this, and what roses? It could have been the rose of union, the blood of murder, or the rose of beauty bare and the blood of some unspeakable sacrifice or birth." This is from the first page; the other 276 do not disappoint.

That is not to say this book is perfect. I give it five stars because, on many pages, I am so struck by her language that I know I will return to those pages again and again, for years, for decades. I know that I will look for that "quince tang in the air" in November; I will watch for the cocoon of the Polyphemus moth with anticipation, with dread; I will forever hold the story of Jacob's 'ring-streaked, speckled and spotted' flocks in the very surface of my consciousness; I will prop my eyes open too, with toothpicks, with trees, with her incomparable voice. I see the world more sharply, more intricately. I find myself needing new glasses; I feel that, without them, I am dishonoring God.

It is not perfect, and that Dillard herself readily recognizes. As she writes, 'Flood' is feeble, I find it a pretty story that does not fit into the book, except by thematic significance; in my mind's eye I see her cutting chapters into bits with scissors (as she tells her writing students to do, according to Alexander Chee) and, sometimes, the story comes after the next reference. Caribou are "click-footed" chapters earlier than we learn that their hooves do make clicking sounds due to loose cartilage in their fetlocks; if this was, as I suspect, a mistake, it does not make this any less lovely: " can hear them before they've come and after they've gone, rumbling like rivers, ticking like clocks." Bits of it are too random; bits of it are scarring. That Polyphemus moth, "its wings crushed to its back, crawls down the driveway, crawls down the driveway, crawls..." Night is the time to count your dead. Some of it is so personal and mystical to be almost incomprehensible -- what is the tree with the lights, really? -- but I do not know if that is a failing or a strength; perhaps it is both.

Upon reading this book I do not know if it is that I am like Annie Dillard or that we two have many, twining influences: Hopkins and the wide eyes of children and the Old Testament and college years in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and an abiding belief in the thesaurus. But it is homage to her deeply felt craft that now, when I see something Dillard-like in a sentence of mine, I know I have done my premier work.

To say that I will never forget this book does not quite credit it. It does not credit it at all. I will never put this book down. It is not just a book that will sit, like my book of Hopkins' poetry, always at the top of a pile somewhere I can reach it any day or minute; it is, like Hopkins, a bright and astonishing set of references and rhythms and facts and insights and worldviews that will, ever, float around the edge of the narrative of my brain, informing both reading and writing, imagination and physical sight. It is a piercing, lilting, sweet and stunning book and to Dillard I am forever grateful.
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Quotes sarah Liked

Annie Dillard
“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard
“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I'd half-awaken. He'd stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Reading Progress

01/24/2010 page 7
2.43% "oh! 'keys to the kingdom or the mark of Cain. I never knew.' 'lost in the leafy interior, intent, remembering nothing. 'mountains are home'"
01/26/2010 page 44
15.28% "I am seeing so much of myself in her writing, even though her vast, detailed biological knowledge astonishes. she knows: she knows."
01/29/2010 page 90
31.25% "'frangible' 'eidetic' 'augenblick' 'pellucid' 'littering the grass with dried lappets and strips' : things i'm writing down"
02/08/2010 page 187
64.93% "finding her death bits less lovely than the earlier thralls with the present, sight, spring, winter: funnier, though."
02/08/2010 page 192
66.67% "enchanted again, so soon! by her stalking passages. 'You can see them if you want to; catch them if you can.'"
02/15/2010 page 217
75.35% "'click-footed caribou' and 'it's every man to your tents, oh Israel; and 'I was the bride who waits with her lamp filled.' grabbing Bible."
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