With a Shake Of the Fist

When an author wins a Pulitzer Prize for her first book the sensible reader will vote with the majority. What other analysis is possible than that Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is in places a beautifully written and moving book? Or that Annie Dillard deals with such difficult questions as the meaning of nature, the role of death and birth in the universe, the problem of pain, and the nature and image of God; that she approaches them with a unique eyesight.

The difficulty is increased when the author explains her work, as she does in this issue (see page 14). Yet, a reviewer can fall back on the statement that writers are less dependable than an outsider, being both too close and too removed from her own work. Also, that what a writer writes is more important than what a writer says about what she writes.

Dillard’s descriptions of nature and the aspects of nature on which she concentrates reveal a particular view of God that does not necessarily match that of biblical revelation. She takes the Old Testament into account, particularly the book of Job. She asks the same questions. But Dillard leaves out the New Testament almost entirely.

Since Dillard might say that the nature of a person is revealed in his work, it is important to get an accurate picture of her picture of nature. In some sense it is pantheistic. She sees God animated in nature; yet she also sees him as quite apart from his creation; you can’t have it both ways.

Dillard’s views on God and his work are implicit in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. There is little straightforward philosophy or theology. She is much more explicit in Holy the Firm, particularly in the central chapter, “God’s Tooth.”

That the world was created by God is never denied. But when ...

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