cover image In the Loyal Mountains: Stories

In the Loyal Mountains: Stories

Rick Bass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21.95 (168pp) ISBN 978-0-395-71687-8

In this moving and self-assured collection of 10 stories (some of them linked, others not), Bass (Platte River) captures two very different regions of the country. A handful of the selections are set in an isolated Montana valley, a place inhabited by cougars and bears and the occasional pedestrian who gets pulled off the road and mauled. Others are set in the deep South, including ``The Legend of Pig-Eye,'' in which a Mississippi boxer recounts the bizarre training rituals of his instructor, which include outswimming a crazed horse named Killer. All of the stories are told in the first person, and all the narrators are men. Often looking back at important moments in their lives, they never waver in their love for their environments: ``I wake up smiling sometimes because I have all my days left to live in this place,'' says the unnamed narrator of ``The Valley.'' For that love, the men often pay a price measured in human isolation, but they pay it willingly. The protagonist of ``Swamp Boy'' speaks for most of Bass's men when he says: ``My heart was wild and did not belong among people.'' Between the opening story, ``The History of Rodney'' (a Southern-gothic tale about the denizens of a pig-infested Mississippi ghost town), and the close of the title story (a nostalgic riff on Texas, suicide and golf) Bass achieves a solid thematic cohesion and an irrational sort of communion among the stories that give this collection something like the heft of a wonderfully layered novel. (June)