Book review: Holy the Firm, by Annie Dillard.
This little book ranks as probably the best I’ve ever read. In any case, it’s a close tie with Buechner’s Godric. Annie Dillard is a mystic who earnestly searches for answers and gets a mystery instead.
In the first chapter of the book, Newborn and Salted, she establishes critical concepts of gods of days, salt and fire. The gods of days not only represent nature, but also randomness in the world – a randomness that ranges from the whimsical (a god dragged in by the cat) to blind destruction (a punk with a match in a barn). These gods will later be overshadowed by thoughts about the true God when the discourse turns to questions of immanence/emanence, theodicy and finally mystery.
Salt will turn out to be connected to Holy the Firm, and also represent the way in which “we” – especially artists and particularly the author – dissolve ourselves into this world to connect to the Absolute.
And fire – ah, that cruel and unforgettable description of the burning of the moth. The fire theme is strong: some of the gods play with matches, Rimbaud burned his brain out in his poems, the winged godlet’s hair was on fire, even the cat’s tail had to be put out. And later, of course, Julie Norwich gets burned in a plane crash, and will have to spend the rest of her life disfigured. The fate of this little girl, and the mystical union between the author, God and Julie, are main themes in the book.
Altogether, as I have indicated, the five stars in the standard rating system are insufficient for this book. As the cliché goes: You have to read it.