WHERE THE SEA USED TO BE by Rick Bass

WHERE THE SEA USED TO BE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An ambitious and often captivatingly beautiful story, both Bass’s 13th book (In the Loyal Mountains, 1995, etc.) and his first full-length novel. In sensuous descriptive prose whose incantatory rhythms invite comparison with both Lawrence and Faulkner, Bass tells a tale of familial, sexual, and, in a way, fraternal conflict among four uneasily related characters who are, simultaneously, denizens, preservers, and destroyers of Montana’s north country near the Canadian border. Old Dudley is a veteran oil driller who sends Wallis, a young geologist in his employ, to that wilderness to seek oil. It’s an expression of Dudley’s power, as is well known by his 40ish daughter Mel, a schoolteacher and naturalist who “follows” the lives of wolves, and by Wallis’s predecessor (and Mel’s former lover) Matthew—and as will be learned by Wallis, a young Texan still mourning the deaths of his loved ones. Though the wary relationship of Wallis and Mel (his host, and mentor in this strange new world) is delineated with great skill, and though the story of their slowly developing closeness is punctuated by vividly rendered episodes (digging a limousine out of the snow, observing a summer drought and an ensuing forest fire), the story is essentially an extended meditation on the prickly, necessary interrelationship of man and the natural world. Variety is provided by a handful of lively townspeople (reminiscent of TV’s Northern Exposure) and by lengthy excerpts from old Dudley’s notebooks (as Wallis reads them), which comprise an almost mystical interpretation of how the earth’s physical features were formed (“It’s kind of like the Bible,” Dudley explains). But one reads this novel for such descriptive passages as this: “Flaming trees and burning snags and limbs . . . falling like swords with whiffs of sound like the cutting of paper with sharp scissors.— The story’s drama builds not through action per se, but from the intensity of its characters’ observations of themselves and of the exterior world that nurtures, tests, and reshapes them. Read it slowly, and it won’t let go of you. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-77015-7
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998




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