Platte River

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Over the past six years, Rick Bass has written five nonfiction books about the outdoors, including THE NINEMILE WOLVES (1992), WINTER: NOTES FROM MONTANA (1991), and OIL NOTES (1989), all of which reveal a revered understanding of the natural world. In his stories, though—what ultimately makes the fiction more engaging—Bass allows his imagination to roam wildly over these landscapes in search for what lies unseen, beneath the surface of things, waiting to be told.

“No one has ever before seen what I am seeing,” Bass boldly declares in OIL NOTES. And this much is true: Bass’s vision of the world is twisted and enlarged to resemble something otherworldly, not unlike the work of such magical realists as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, and Ben Okri. Bass’s stories deliberately stretch the fabric of reality in order for us to see what he sees, and for us to realize the limitless possibilities of a world surrounded by sky. Bass magically transforms the rugged, a river-runs-through-them natural landscapes of northern Montana, New York, and Michigan into mythical places where “ravens sometimes fell from the sky in mid-flight, their insides snapping” due to the hard winter cold.

To read the work of Rick Bass, to read PLATTE RIVER, is to never step twice into “some sort of afterlife, separate from the real world.” In “Mahatma Joe,” Bass tells the story of a preacher living out his last days in the remote Grass Valley of...

(The entire section is 416 words.)