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Powells.com
Saturday, October 8th, 2005


 

The Highest Tide: A Novel

by Jim Lynch

A review by Jill Owens

Recently, the first photographs of a living giant squid made headlines around the world. In a nice coincidence, Jim Lynch's fictional debut explores what's so remarkable about the squid and its unusual ocean brethren, as well as what it's like growing up by the edge of sea. The Highest Tide has much to recommend it, including the narrator himself, thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley, who is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield if, say, he'd been much geekier, and a bit less confident. Miles is tiny for his age (he looks closer to nine), his parents treat him with, for the most part, benign neglect, and his best friend is an octogenarian clairvoyant -- so he's not exactly the most normal kid. But he cuts easily through bullshit, and his frank, wide-eyed take on the world is unusually moving. Here is a person who is trying to do the right thing by his friends, family, and the earth itself, make sense of his life, and still get what he wants -- namely, both to grow up and to keep things from changing too fast.

A more surprising feat is that the book successfully pulls off using the ecology of the ocean as its primary story line. A dislocated ragfish, a swarm of bioluminescent worms, and yes, a giant squid, are the engines which drive the plot -- seriously. And it's absolutely fascinating. I'll admit, I've always had an enormous interest in anything scientific, and particularly anything related to marine biology (and I'm certainly not alone -- you know who you are, you aquarium-visiting, NOVA-watching individuals). But even if you aren't particularly interested in the sea, the pace of the story is still completely engaging -- even page-turning. I've recommended The Highest Tide to a few friends now with widely divergent reading tastes, and every one has been drawn in. Jim Lynch was the Puget Sound reporter for the Oregonian for several years before writing this book, and in addition to being knowledgeable, his voice is lyrical and lovely when describing sun stars, barnacles, and sea cucumbers. When a novel can simultaneously make you laugh and teach you all you never knew about geoduck clams, you've got to be at least a little impressed.

With ever-increasing evidence of the ways our impact on the planet is taking a greater and greater toll, The Highest Tide is a timely read -- a classic, quirky coming-of-age tale with an appealingly honest voice and a mesmerizing exploration of ocean life.


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