Saturday, September 06, 2008

Book Review: "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (first published in 1974) is an extended meditation on the natural world and its inhabitants, written by a young author with much to say. Its language is poetic, and sometimes lovely, although as Dillard admits in her 1999 afterword, "I'm afraid I suffered a youth's drawback, too: a love of grand sentences, and fancied a grand sentence was not quite done until it was overdone. Some parts seem frivolous." At times the language is just too much, and the stream-of consciousness perspective too frustrating.

When Dillard's prose sparkles, it is brilliant, as she recounts learning to "stalk muskrats" and muses on red-spotted newts, dragonfly larvae and the other wonderful discoveries that can be made in a freshwater pond or creek. I can't even say how many summer days my cousins and I spent as children catching newts in the farm ponds, building crayfish corrals, or stalking spring peepers with flashlights (and then bringing their cacophonous little selves into the house and letting them make their great racket indoors until, sleep-deprived, we finally tired of their chirps).

But for all the lovely moments in this book, there were long stretches where I just lost interest in the meditative, flowery language and wanted something to happen. I could have done without all the personal philosophizing. Perhaps one just has to be in a certain mindset to experience this book as Dillard intended it to be experienced - it may be one that must be read under only certain conditions in order for it to work well.