For a Little While
by Rick Bass
If there is a better English-language short-story writer than Rick Bass, I will eat my collections of Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro and Lydia Davis. For a Little While anthologises the American writer’s best work of the past 30 years and is required reading. Bass, who is also an environmental activist, specialises in intimate, intense character studies set against a backdrop of America’s great beauty. “The Hermit’s Story” evokes the obscured world of an ice storm to meditate on invisible truths of memory and fleeting experience. “Pagans” sets a coming-of-age love triangle against industry’s encroachments on a forest paradise. In the eerie “The Watch”, a dysfunctional father-son relationship is staged against the swampy otherness of a Missouri bayou. The protagonists in these dramas are unexpectedly heroic, striving against physical pain, harsh terrain and their inner desires to find meaning, love and resolution. The prose is breathtaking: “The cracks and fissures of chance, ruptures at the earth’s surface claiming the three of them, as all must be claimed – those crevasses manifesting as random occurrence but operating surely just beneath the surface in intricate balancings and alignments of fate” (from “Pagans”). Riveting, moving and disturbing, For a Little While is a masterpiece.