A long time ago, an English professor of mine professed great respect for Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I haven’t read it but am working on The Maytrees, Dillard’s 2007 novel, a light and breezy thing thus far. Written in a vaguely post-modern style, with many flourishing trills and inventive words, Dillard tells the story of a man and his wife who live unconventional lives in post war New England. She has introduced them rather nicely, in a standoffish sort of way that doesn’t allow the reader much access to them as characters, more as prettily descriptive words placed carefully together. I’m waiting for something to happen, though there’s a hint of looming conflict. This sort of writing has me all agog one minute at its niceness, crisp new phrases and artful sentences that, almost in the same breath, leave me feeling as though I’d just eaten two pieces of white bread toast. As a reader, I’ve more affinity for a broth of not-too-plodsome plot, generous servings of characterization, sprinkled with some philosophizing and some zesty description. Is this too much to ask from each writer? 🙂
As for Tree of Smoke, I’m afraid it got left behind. I picked it up Saturday night while still thinking of the McCarthy. I found myself unable to get through even two pages and decided that I would save it for another time. I have a feeling that Johnson was trying to suggest a relevance for today’s war, how origins may contain fine intentions that become inextricably tangled by the lives involved. Could be wrong, and I may never know.