Holy the firm

by Annie Dillard

Paperback, 1977



Call number




New York : Perennial Library, c1977. reprinted 2003

User reviews

LibraryThing member fieldnotes
Annie Dillard writes boldly and brings the same devoted attention to a dusty beetle carcass or a weather pattern that she brings to the mutilation of a child, to human relations and to god. She is earnest in a rare, humble and humorous fashion, never flippant or cheap and occasionally riveting and wise. Because of the passages that she gets right, I don't feel like ripping apart the weaker places in this book where she seems to fall short, channeling, for instance, the least exceptional moments of Walt Whitman or Hart Crane or the passages where, for one reason or another, I don't wrestle along beside her with whatever tragedy or injustice she spends pages piling objects and experiences around.

I have patience for her because she has at least three distinct ways of getting it right: Her focus on small things generally seems warranted, even when she doesn't tax her subjects with becoming metaphors that help her assemble spiritual thoughts. To me, such passages can be a useful reminder to slow down and pay attention; to get outside of myself. And they are written nicely, reminding me of Francis Ponge, "There is a spider, too, in the bathroom, with whom I keep a sort of company. Her little outfit always reminds me of a certain moth I helped to kill. The spider herself is of uncertain lineage, bulbous at the abdomen and drab. Her six-inch mess of a web works, works somehow, works miraculously, to keep her alive and me amazed. The web itself is in a corner behind the toilet, connecting the tile wall to tile wall and floor, in a place where there is, I would have thought, scant traffic. Yet under the web are sixteen or so corpses that she has tossed to the floor." When she admits other humans into her narrative, she treats them with tender care and assembles, quite deliberately, the circumstances that make them sensible, "She saw me watching her and we exchanged a look, a very conscious and self-conscious look--because we look a bit alike and we both knew it; because she was still short and I grown; because I was stuck kneeling before the cider pail, looking at her sidewise over my shoulder; because she was carrying the cat so oddly, so that she had to walk with her long legs parted; because it was my cat, and she'd dressed it, and it looked like a nun; and because she knew I'd been watching her, and how fondly, all along." And she inevitably (at least in her works that are not novels, in which she can comfortably announce, "Nothing is going to happen in this book") gets to talking about god or about divinity or immanence or transcendence, or whatever she is comfortable calling it. She forages through the mystic tradition of various religions unearthing salient little quotation gems (though mostly from Judeo-Christian sources) and unflinchingly adds her own prerogative, which is reliably unorthodox in a fashion that is both critical and accepting. She is also more than comfortable launching small attacks against god and theology: "Did Christ descend once and for all to no purpose, in a kind of divine and kenotic suicide, or ascend once and for all, pulling his cross up after him like a rope ladder home?" I can imagine her utterances about God proving abrasive to some readers and a real cynic might associate some of her musings with a thinly elevated chicken soup for the soul sort of pocket philosophy; but I don't think that Dillard is trying to write manuals or aphorisms and I like that she is unashamed to mix her personal doubts and struggles into the thoughts and observations that she is good enough to share. This book is scarcely fifty pages long and it is not nearly as good as "Teaching a Stone to Talk."
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LibraryThing member mkboylan
When I read [Pilgrim at Tinker Creek] by [[Dillard]], I knew I wanted more. The line that stayed with me from that first book was Dillard talking about the oneness of all of life. She is so clearly taken with and in love with that idea and with nature. She said that if people falling out of airplanes that were crashing understood that oneness and continuity, they would be falling through the sky saying "Thank you God! Thank you!" knowing that what came next would be wonderful also, whatever it was. That was published in 1974. [Holy the Firm] was published three years later in 1977 and includes a story of a little girl who was in an airplane crash. The child was severely burned when some type of fuel gel stuck on her face causing excruciating pain and destroying her face. [Holy the Firm] describes other instances of the cruelty and horror of life, as well as its beauty. Can these extremes of beauty and pain possibly be all of one cloth? This is one of the main questions Dillard explores in this lovely and beautifully written book. It reminded me of driving through forests in Alaska and realizing that it was the combination, the togetherness, of both the dead and the living trees that was making this forest so beautiful. Once again, Dillard's use of language is spectacular. The part of this book that will stick with me is her description of a few moments of her experience living alone in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest. She is overwhelmed by the beauty of the world as she stands looking at the Cascades Mountain range and is stunned. Then she says to herself, "Oh my God there is more!" and turns around and faces the Puget Sound and is knocked out by its beauty, water, clouds, islands, mist. It reminds me of driving up the east coast of the south island of New Zealand and being stunned by the beauty on both sides, mountains on one side, ocean on the other, where to look? Because there is always more, isn't there?… (more)
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
To quote from my notes while reading: "Her very smallness and ignorance is bigger and WISER than everyone else's smallness and ignorance."
LibraryThing member HippieLunatic
Interesting exploration of what is holy, what is good, what is certain. Didn't love the style, but there were a couple of lines that hit perfectly for me. Worth the short investment of time, most definitely.


Original publication date



0060915439 / 9780060915438

Local notes

inscription: Brenda Ray

Call number



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