Tournament of Books 2015

Wednesday, August 14th, 2002


The Hermit's Story

by Rick Bass

Rick Bass Hangs On

A review by Heather Caldwell

In the title story of Rick Bass's latest collection, a man and woman are lost beneath a frozen lake; years later, the man dead, the woman "holds that knowledge" of a place where "sight, and the appearance of things...disappeared, and where instead their essence -- was revealed."

This idea of holding onto something elusive -- a miraculous place, an old love, imagination, or nature itself -- is integral to Bass's work. Many of the stories in this book chart the vicissitudes of love against the primal economy of nature: A young couple wander naked through an abandoned mine in "The Cave"; a firefighter's marriage is saved by the dangerous rhythm of his daily encounters with death in "The Fireman"; in "President's Day" Bass describes the end of love as a place where both will and navigation fail; and by the last story in the book ("Two Deers"), a man muses that his marriage is as vital and mysterious a communion as that between predator and prey. Without any nature-boy sexism or sentimentality, Bass's stories evoke the unbreakable bonds between men and women, nature and time.

The Hermit's Story is his seventh story collection (out of an astonishing total of seventeen books), and many readers are by this point likely to be familiar with his urgent, passionate work. Bass is a deeply principled writer, who strives to save not just his beloved western wilderness but the human imagination he feels is so diminished by its loss. The Hermit's Story is occasionally uneven, but is nevertheless an elegiac cry for a rare and magic place. Few writers capture that place so clearly, or mourn it so dearly.

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