The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New

  • By Annie Dillard
  • Ecco
  • 304 pp.
  • Reviewed by Kristina Moriconi
  • March 11, 2016

An American writing giant is back with a sublime collection

The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New

For readers familiar with Annie Dillard’s work, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New is a reassembling, a reordering. A reimagining within a different frame.

For readers new to Dillard’s writing, this collection, not unlike others she has written, is an adventure. It is like learning to read all over again. It is a reminder to see — to look and listen — more closely than ever before.

As always, reading Dillard is not to be taken lightly. There should be as little distraction as possible. And one should come to these pages prepared to reflect and interpret, to look for ways to connect what might seem disconnected.

With the exception of two very brief essays, the longer ones are divided into segments, a thin horizontal line (or a subtitle) separating them. So, in seeking connections, there is the question of what holds together the segmented pieces within an individual essay, and then there is the larger question of what holds together the collection as a whole. Why was each one chosen to sit beside the others? Their juxtaposition is a literary study in itself.

Somehow, they precede and follow one another comfortably without a sense of separateness, as though it had always been the author’s intention for them to be read in this order, in this re-collected way, decades of her writing about place distilled to the most unforgettable vista points along the way.

On these pages, readers have been invited to travel with Dillard on this journey. There is a stop along the way in the place where she is from, another stop where she is living, and yet more in the places she continues to go.

Readers are tasked with keeping up, staying with her in the present “today,” in the past “two summers ago,” and in the timeless mystery of “one night,” watching, through Dillard’s unflinching eye, the spectacle of a moth: “A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch wingspan, flapped into the fire, dropped her abdomen into the wet wax — stuck, flamed, frazzled, and fried in a second.”

This description continues onto another page, then yet another, the body of the moth becoming a vehicle for Dillard’s lyrical voice: “And her head jerked in spasms, making a spattering noise; her antennae crisped and burned away and her heaving mouth parts cracked like pistol fire.”

In the foreword, Geoff Dyer writes: “Dillard opens our eyes to the world and to new ways of articulating what we see.” To read Annie Dillard’s latest collection of essays is to be a student of language and a student of the world — to look at everything, even the tiniest moments, with perpetual wonder.

Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist. She is the author of the chapbook No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in Cobalt Review, Change Seven, Crab Creek Review, december, and dozens of other literary journals. In 2014, she was named the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, poet laureate. She earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington, and she now lives and teaches in suburban Philadelphia.

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