My friend Julia introduced me to author Annie Dillard almost two decades ago, and I was delighted to see Dillard reappear in The Washington Post's Book World with a review of her latest, the novel The Maytrees. Equally delightful is a brief and chatty interview with Dillard that helps put a human -- and humorous -- face on a woman whose writing about nature and the human spirit has at times seemed otherworldly and too serious to me at times. Dillard currently lives in the mountains of Virginia, which is where she spoke to Book World's Daniel Asa Rose:
So you granted Book World your only in-depth interview for this book. Was it because of that affair we had back in '82?
[Laughing] It slipped my mind. Refresh my memory.
OK, it wasn't technically an affair. It was a dance. We were at a mutual friend's publication party, and suddenly you yanked me onto the dance floor with these immortal words, "Now let's see what you're made of."
I said that? Usually that's how I got men to play Ping Pong with me. It was good for four points.
Well, it sure worked on me. I was intimidated the whole dance.
What were we dancing to? Fast or slow?
I can't dance anymore. Total knee replacements. I can't do anything anymore. I'm 62 now.
For me, you'll always be the way you were then: svelte, incandescent.
I kept growing through my 30s! I don't know why. Now I'm shrinking, of course. At the doctor's the other day, the form asked, "How tall are you? How tall were you?" I said, "I didn't come here to be insulted!"
Annie Dillard's books are like comets, like celestial events that remind us that the reality we inhabit is itself a celestial event, the business of eons and galaxies, however persistently we mistake its local manifestations for mere dust, mere sea, mere self, mere thought. The beauty and obsession of her work are always the integration of being, at the grandest scales of our knowledge of it, with the intimate and momentary sense of life lived.
The Maytrees is about wonder -- in the terms of this novel, life's one truth. It is wonder indeed that is invoked here, vast and elusive and inexhaustible and intimate and timeless. There is a resolute this-worldliness that startles the reader again and again with recognition. How much we overlook! What a world this is, after all, and how profound on its own terms.