BROWN DOG OF THE YAAK by Rick Bass

BROWN DOG OF THE YAAK

Essays on Art and Activism
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Bass (Where the Sea Used to Be, 1998, etc.) identifies the triangulate elements used to chart the course of his life and writing. The Bassian motivational universe is hardly a national secret, even to those most fleetingly acquainted with his work: In fiction and nonfiction, it is cut of a cloth, in praise and in defense of those wild places left on earth. One of his three essentials is thus place, in particular the Yaak valley of northwest Montana, his home, inspiration, solace, and love. On that place runs the brown dog, Bass’s pointer, as graceful in the natural world as Bass would like to be. His dog, as irreducible as an element, goes lost, and his valley is imperiled by the same forces that rob wildness everywhere. What happens, Bass asks, when the durable falls away, when vital tethers are severed? “What kind of stories do we tell, as we are falling? How do we live our lives?” Two more guiding stars appear in his firmament: activism and writing. Both he considers as shadows compared with the real—a rock is real, a wolf, a fir tree, his dog—but activism is the tool our political culture affords those who are fiercely protective of the real, and no matter how tedious or against the grain, it must be deployed, and it must be done artfully. Writing as well can touch the wild, “having protected, kept alive, or even enhanced the shape” of the landscape’s gifts. For Bass, these three anchors are also sanctuaries, one of which he will choose as a place where he can hide from the other two; each also opens up experiences left untouched by the others, to be explored as one might a strange house, room to room. Bass is an eloquent essayist; he somehow avoids sermonizing while lecturing, though he too often writes of things better seen and not said, like “starlight on the fur of sleeping wolves,” which sounds awfully mawkish. Pleasant, but Bass’s credo didn’t need a separate book to clarify; none of his works skirt the issue.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-57131-227-7
Page count: 150pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999




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