cover image The Lives of the Rocks

The Lives of the Rocks

Rick Bass, . . Houghton Mifflin, $23 (211pp) ISBN 978-0-618-59674-4

Nature is as much a character in this sterling collection of 10 short stories as are any of the oddly off-center but otherwise endearing people who inhabit it. Bass writes with concern about the environment (Caribou Rising ), and that same passion infuses his fiction (The Hermit's Story ). In "Titan" a man recalls an awesome and awful day in his boyhood when freshwater rivers and streams, engorged by sudden heavy rains, surged into the ocean off the Alabama coast, stunning saltwater fish so they could be scooped up by the thousands. The teenage boys of "Pagans" squeeze inside a diving bell to plunge into a river so polluted it bursts into flame; in "Fiber," a former writer and environmental activist gathers deadfall trees and, as the "log fairy," sneaks the best onto the trucks of other wildcat loggers so they'll cut down fewer trees. And in the elegiac title story, a geologist weak from cancer treatments relies on children from a rigidly fundamentalist family for winter wood; they are happy to help, until she teaches them that the Earth is millions of years old. These graceful stories are connected through Bass's invocation of elemental forces, but at the same time each is deliciously distinct. (Nov.)