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Hedy Reviews “Holy the Firm”

By Library Staff

This is a slim book that can be read over and over with delight and pondering.  Forget doing any Google searches.  No website’s going to give you the answers to what “God” (or “god”) is, why there’s pain, why we exist. We can only find answers to those questions within ourselves.  And they change from day to day just as we do.

From the publisher: “In 1975 Annie Dillard took up residence on an island in Puget Sound, in a wooden room furnished with ‘one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person.’ For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice, death, and the will of God.  In Holy the Firm, she writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, about a seven-year-old girl burned in an airplane accident, about a baptism on a cold beach.  But behind the moving curtain of what she calls ‘the hard things–rock mountain and salt sea,’ she sees, sometimes far off and sometimes as close by as a veil or air, the power play of holy fire.”

Part One is called “Newborn and salted” wherein Dillard writes “Every day is a god…”  She often reminds me of one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins.  For example, “The god of today is a boy, pagan and fernfoot.  His power is enthusiasm; his innocence is mystery. He sockets into everything that is, and that right holy.  Loud as music, filling the grasses and skies, his day spreads rising at home in the hundred senses. He rises, new and surrounding; he is everything that is, wholly here and emptied–flung, and flowing, sowing, unseen, and flown.” If you like that kind of writing, read Holy the Firm and read it again.  Those flights of words are interspersed with slightly less poetic but still rich, writing. Something for everyone’s intellect and emotion.

Part Two is called “God’s Tooth” and that’s when the little girl’s face is burned off.  Dillard writes, “If days are gods, then gods are dead, and artists pyrotechnic fools. Time is a hurdy-gurdy, a lampoon, and death’s a bawd.  We’re beheaded by the nick of time.”

And then comes Part Three “Holy the Firm” which deals with “one of the few questions worth asking, to wit, What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”  Well, I’ve often wondered that myself.  And there’s no Googling it.  I don’t know if someone younger would have the patience for this book, but it thrills me in my current time of life.  I don’t understand it all–and I don’t have to.  That’s what will make it live for a good long time.

242 DI  Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard, 1977, 76 pages