More tales on life lived at the cusp of wilderness from the prolific animal lover (Brown Dog of the Yaak, 1999, etc.).
Bass’s characters are never quite happy with the civilization they leave behind, or the wilds that ultimately threaten them when they enter it. They are never at home, always longing for a perfection imagined or simply impossible. The title story recounts a woman’s experience beneath the ice ceiling of a lake that froze before it drained, and becomes a meditation on the stillness of solitude in the unlikeliest of greenhouses; in “Swans,” the narrator’s neighbors live a love story about the joys and dangers of life lived in the near wild; “The Prisoners” concerns three men whose encounter with a prison bus on their way to a weekend fishing trip reveals that they’ve outgrown neither their adolescence nor their testosterone; “The Fireman” is a lyric excursion in which every apocryphal tale of firefighting is recycled in an effort to make firefighters seem even more brave and heroic; “The Cave” introduces Russell and Sissy, an unlikely couple who discover their primal selves in a descent into an abandoned coal mine, and who reappear in “Eating”; “President’s Day” sees the occasion of a friend’s eye surgery become the opportunity for a young narrator to reflect on his accumulation of youthful wisdom; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello becomes an expression of civilization in “The Distance,” its ambiguous grandeur forcing a young man to question what our gadgetry has done to our social conscience; and “Two Deer” recycles more apocryphal stories of deer accidents as a nature novice reflects on both the lives and habits of ungulates and his wife, and, of course, failed love.
What would be an accomplishment for a beginner is simply workmanlike from Bass. Civilization never seemed so far away.