American Writers, Supplement VI by Jay Parini

By Jay Parini

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She describes, for example, the nonlinear progression of much contemporary fiction, its sometimes trendy use of "narrative collage"; yet her books and many of her essays—such as "An Expedition to the Pole" in Teaching a Stone to Talk—make powerful use of this technique. In that book, she moves readily between such disparate objects as "a snail, a sea lion, or a systems analyst" ("Life on the Rocks: The Galapagos") via the flight of her imagination. In celebrating the merit of contemporary prose style (while again disparaging style for its own sake), she identifies two strands of style, the "plain" and the "fancy," both of which she employs effectively.

Having received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 2000 Dillard was adjunct professor of English at Wesleyan. Reticent about her personal life and guarding her privacy carefully, she restricted public appearances. " Like her predecessors', Dillard's writing explores such subjects as humans' relationships with nature and with God, the simultaneous presence of beauty and suffering, the relationship of the writer to his or her imagined audience, the connections between the body and the spirit, and the role of gender in personal writing.

Usually frogs are jittery about her presence, but this frog doesn't jump; instead, as she looks, "he slowly crumpled and began to sag.... His skin emptied and drooped. . " The culprit responsible for literally draining the frog's life is a giant water bug, which punctures its victims with a single bite, poisons it with enzymes that liquefy all internal organs and bones, and sucks the resulting juice from the skin. As Sandra Humble Johnson observes, such graphic descriptions permeate Dillard's writing, generating both wonder and fear.

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