I picked up a copy of the bound galleys of ANNIE DILLARD'S new novel THE MAYTREES at the downtown Strand Bookstore. $1.49. An N was penciled in at the upper left hand corner of the cover. It was a reject from the rare book room. The book is written as if from a great distance and seems to echo in some way--- beyond my ability to figure out--- EVAN CONNELL'S novels MR BRIDGE and MRS BRIDGE.
I first met Annie Dillard at Hollins College in 1969-70. She had been a student at the college and had married Richard Dillard who was a professor. She spent a lot of time in the little snack bar near the library. She must have heard me talking about an incident in Patchogue as it later appeared in her now famous PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK. (I am not going to take down that book to find the exact page. One has to have some slight dignity)
I put my own story into my own little book GOING TO PATCHOGUE (Dalkey Archive):
Dad talks of the first winter. On the morning when the bay froze over for the first time I went down to the beach and walked out on the ice. Sea gulls had been trapped in the ice. Some of them were still alive. I hit them over the head with a piece of drift lumber. Then I took a penknife and cut the bodies off at the first joint of the leg. I left behind a little forest of bloody stumps. We had a lot of sea gull soup that first winter.
I last saw Annie in the 1980s at a bookstore up near the Museum of Natural History--- long gone now, but once one of the great bookstores. She was signing books and I was surprised that the line was out of the store and into the street. Men, women, all ages and dress, lined up with piles of her books. She was famous, an authority, a knower of nature and of the finer feelings, one sensed
As my year at Hollins College wore on Lilia and I drifted apart. I went up to New York City. Lilia stayed at Hollins College where she received two and half years credit for being Bulgarian and having been a gymnazium student in Sofia. Annie would talk to Lilia and suggest that she marry a professor but make sure he is tenured. It is the perfect life. Lilia was not interested in that as she was interested in the very young son of the the Dean of the College; she did not marry him.
Within a year of winning the Pulitizer Prize for PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK Annie Dillard was done with Richard--- but kept his name as Doak simply does not--- and years later George Garrett told me Annie had moved on to husband number two because he was younger and would be the father for her child and when that ended she realized she needed an older man for husband number three and to whom she could read the reviews of her books without him getting jealous... this story has been told hundreds of times across the South.
Last year when I was preparing to drive my daughter to Vanderbilt, George was again telling me an ANNIE DILLARD story as relayed by her former husband still living in Hollins, near Roanoke. It seems Annie was in the mountains nearby and having a hard time writing. Would Richard have dinner with her. He agreed as they were still friendly after a fashion. The dinner went well enough and as they were leaving and saying goodbye in the parklng lot Annie suddenly asked Richard if he could do a favour for her. He agreed and she asked could he dispose of her garbage as there was no collection at the cabin where she was living. She opened the trunk of the car and it was stuffed with large plastic bags of weeks of garbage. It seemed like old times, Richard said. I was always taking out her garbage back then.
There is a whole other area of conversation about Annie Dillard when it comes to blurbs... but that has to be for another time...
GOOD NEWS. GOOD NEWS. GOOD NEWS. Steve Moore wrote and told me that he had just received his copy of ALEXANDER THEROUX'S LAURA WARHOLIC or, The Sexual Intellectual. A Novel. 888 pages. The perfect way to end the year.