cover image The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness

The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness

Rick Bass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $23 (190pp) ISBN 978-0-395-71758-5

""Spirit world, my butt,"" thinks one hard-bitten character in the first of these three splendid novellas, but it is exactly that--a spirit world--that Bass grasps in his tales of people in the Western wilderness. In the first, a mentally ailing trapper goes after a troublesome quarry: his wife. In the second, a wildcat oil man, who has never once picked a dry well, finds his rewards not in the money or in his perfect record but in his own enchantment with the land. In the title piece, the longest and most powerful of the three, a 44-year-old woman returns to her family's huge Texas ranch and remembers how she communed with her dead mother's spirit in the nature all around her. She wonders what part of her character is due to ""bloodline"" and what part ""has been sculpted by the land,"" and how, indeed, she has failed the land by not producing children to continue the legacy. Bass (In the Loyal Mountains) takes a number of breathtaking turns and apparent digressions in this moving story, and readers will encounter a bounty of meditations on time and memory that showcase his graceful, precise, almost musical language, and his magical way of making nature animate. His innate sense of shaping a story brings to these tales the transcendence of myth. (Nov.)