(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Rick Bass is a writer preoccupied with the connections between the human animal and wilderness. His characters work with and against the wilderness in which he places them and are defined by this struggle. The physical environment in a Bass story is as alive and intricate as any of the human characters. He is a minimalist whose narrators are usually first-person, rarely named, and seem often to have inherited their fated behaviors from other family members. Many of these first-person narratives have as one of their major themes the maturation of the narrator. The narrator of “In the Loyal Mountains” is greatly influenced by an uncle, a bizarre and strong-willed man, whose devotion to hunting and fishing make him sound like Bass’s descriptions of his own grandfather, and by a girl from “the wrong side of the tracks,” one of society’s more “civilized” wildernesses. Bass’s female characters, both major and minor, seem always to function as satellites of male characters, even in “The Myths of Bears,” where he gives the woman a role as large as that of her male counterpart. At times this makes the women of Bass’s stories seem secondary, sometimes even superfluous. Consequently, the men often seem immature or incomplete.

In his review of The Watch, Bass’s first collection of short stories, Joseph Coates writes about other critics’ use of the term “Magical Realism” in regard to Bass’s stories,that quality, if it exists in his work, appears not in the kind of surreal events or atmosphere that we see in García Márquez but in the arbitrary strangeness of Bass’ situations, which he somehow makes plausible.

Coates compares Bass’s voice to those “particularly American” voices of Twain, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway.

“The Watch”

This title story from the book The Watch was reprinted in New Stories from the South 1988. The dominant theme of the story is the power of loneliness and feelings of alienation to warp an individual’s senses of reality and morality. Hollingsworth and his seventy-seven-year-old father Buzbee are the only inhabitants of a town most of whose inhabitants were killed long ago. Because Buzbee is only fourteen years older than his son, their relationship has, at times, been more like that of brothers. When Buzbee runs off to the swamps and establishes a commune with women from a local town who have been abused by husbands and lovers, Jesse, an aging cyclist who can never quite keep up with the pack that daily rides past Hollingsworth’s general store, stops to drink his usual half a Coke and offers to help catch Buzbee for the thousand-dollar reward Hollingsworth has posted. When they catch Buzbee, Hollingsworth chains him to the store porch. The great irony here is that Hollingsworth risks life and limb to bring his father back so he will have someone to talk to, but Buzbee grieves like a caged animal and refuses to talk or listen. Jesse, who became fat and out of shape during the hunt, buys a new bike and goes into intensive training to keep up with the pack of cyclists who pass by Hollingsworth without ever stopping or speaking.

“In the Loyal Mountains”

This title story from the book In the Loyal Mountains was reprinted in New Stories from the South 1991. The first-person narrator, a man born with one leg noticeably shorter than the other, tells the story...

(The entire section is 1406 words.)