When I borrowed The Writing Life from the library, I made a point of taking another of Annie Dillard's books as well so that I could see what comes out of all those late nights in the dark library and sojourns in the woods. What does stunt-flying fiction look like? I was expecting--I don't know--some kind of packed, every-word-counts, deep character epiphany kind of story.
I was disappointed.
I think The Bone Sharps--also written by a poet--is closer to the sort of first fiction I would have expected Annie Dillard--an established writer of essays and poetry--to create. This--as someone else said--is kind of a Pacific Northwest pioneering James Michener epic. Lots of characters, many years going by, a lot of history and geography mixed into the narrative.
(The single really funny paragraph in the book--almost worth the price of the long ride--is the thought by the woman who doesn't much like children that if she ever does get the urge to produce some, she'd be better off satisfying it by raising chinchillas.)
I avoided reading any online reviews of The Living until I was done reading it, so that I could try and put my own reactions together coherently--am I the only person out there, and I'm really a nobody as far as book reviewing goes, who doesn't think this is a great novel? After reading a couple of the less enthusiastic Amazon reviews (there are quite a few very positive ones), I felt a bit better. There are at least two other people in the world who thought the book was a) too long and b) had too many trees in it. Also c) too many nasty ways to die. (Maybe Ms. Dillard could have benefitted from an editing session with Sol Stein?)
According to what I read, though, even the author thought the book was improved by the cutting that had to be done for an audio version. So if you want to read it, maybe you should look for the audio book instead of getting lost in the woods.
And I will read some of Annie Dillard's other books, when I can get them--I still believe she knows what she's talking about, knows how to write, knows lots of things I haven't even come across yet. I just think this wasn't her best.