Summarized by Kent Larsen
Terry Tempest Williams' Leap Gets Strong Reviews
Chicago Tribune 14May00 A4
By Donna Seaman.
By Terry Tempest Williams
Pantheon, 338 pages, $25
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- Mormon naturalist Terry Tempest Williams' latest book
is getting strong reviews in major newspapers and magazines like the Chicago
Tribune and Time. Williams' book, Leap, looks at Mormonism more than her
previous books, "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place" and
"Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape." In Leap, Williams uses a trio of
paintings by 15th Century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of
Delights" as a jumping-off point for her examination of both
On the surface, Williams' book is a description of Bosch's trio of paintings
in which she examines every detail that Bosch painted. Williams goes much
farther than most that visit an art museum, examining the paintings with
"the purposeful attentiveness of a wildlife biologist in the field,"
according to the Tribune, which notes that she surprised other museum
visitors by bringing binoculars, as a way of identifying the birds that
Bosch painted. "Were Hieronymus Bosch's acute skills as a naturalist
appreciated?" she wonders.
But the book goes deeper, beyond just an analysis of Bosch through a
naturalist's eye. Each of the details in Bosch's paintings leads Williams to
memories that involve her family, her marriage, and her Mormon upbringing.
In one of the paintings, Bosch depicts the creation of Eve in Paradise, and
his inclusion of a grove of trees in the painting leads Williams to reflect
on the First Vision, in which God was revealed to the young boy Joseph
Smith. She credits Mormonism with its reliance on personal revelation and
notes that it is a religion whose "sacred texts were housed and hidden in
the earth." Donna Seaman, writing in the Chicago Tribune says, "The
recognition of the significance of personal revelations, and of the sanctity
of the earth, resonate profoundly for Williams, and become key themes in her
bold and fluent interpretation of Bosch, which, in turn, inspires candid,
often provocative musings on the difference between religion and
spirituality, and fresh insights into our complicated and crucial
relationship with nature."
Seaman says that Williams' exploration allows her to "bridge the divide
between the teachings of Mormonism and the gospel of nature, and to
articulate a 'living faith' based on 'the healing grace of wildness.'"
Seaman goes on to call the book a "dynamic, shape-shifting and lyrically
interrogative meditation," and she credits the book with covering "matters
of life and death." In the end, according to Seaman, Williams "tells us that
we must restore our sense of wonder, and recognize that we live in paradise,
a garden of earthly delights that deserves our reverence and our love."
In a much shorter review in Time magazine, Steve Henry Madoff says that
Williams' description of Bosch may be more than a match for Bosch's 'wild'
painting. "Strange and endlessly fascinating, her reflections on Bosch's
images of Heaven, Hell and Earth take on the burning urgency of a dream,
says Madoff. "'Can a painting be a prayer?' she asks. Her answer is yes,
prayer. Incantation and benediction too."