Bass, Master

The first commandment of fiction writing is: Show, don’t tell. Rick Bass knows it well, though he still struggled through many drafts before finishing his first novel, Where the Sea Used to Be (Houghton Mifflin, $25), which will be published this month. “Paint the images and trust the readers to get the meaning,” he reminded himself for fourteen years, while he wrote what is by far his heftiest output to date. Admittedly, obeying that commandment is sometimes trickier for the forty-year-old author than for most because he splits his time between fiction writing (showing) and environmental activism (telling). A native of Fort Worth who grew up in Houston, he moved to Montana’s remote Yaak Valley in 1987, and ever since, the wild mountain country has been the setting and subject of much of his work, including the new book, which traces the lives of a powerful Texas oilman, his free-spirited daughter, and the two geologists he employs. The accretion of detail over hundreds of pages allows him to unite the artistic and political facets of his signature interest, the human need for wilderness—or as he puts it, “what these wild places mean to us, even if we never get into them, how important they are to our culture and our art as an intangible anchor to the other things in the world.”

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