RICK BASS's fiction has received O. Henry Awards, numerous Pushcart Prizes, awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and his memoir, Why I Came West, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
They were seeking a place to winter in the West, a secluded retreat where he could write and she could paint. Bass ( Oil Notes ) and his friend Elizabeth discovered the Yaak valley in northwest Montana. It was remote--with no electricity or phone service, only erratic radio reception, and reachable by a gravel-and-dirt road that required four-wheel drive. There was one saloon, a general store and a handful of year-round residents. The nearest town, Libby, was 40 miles away. As caretakers of a defunct hunting lodge, the couple settled into their winter idyll. Bass writes exuberantly about their season in the wilderness: blizzards, woodchopping, wildlife, the occasional social gatherings at the Dirty Shame Saloon. This charming celebration will give readers a fresh perception of winter. (Feb.)
In this journal of a back-country winter, Bass is working in the tradition of Walden. Wishing to confront the essentials of nature and self, he heads for the most remote place he can find--the Yaak valley of Montana, with its 30 inhabitants and lack of electricity. The journal focuses on his adaptation to the harsh climate, stressing his growing knowledge of backwoods skills and lore. Unfortunately, Bass rarely goes beyond recording daily tasks and encounters. He conveys little insight into the spiritual changes he is undergoing and has surprisingly little to say about the relation of man and nature. His writing has been compared to that of Annie Dillard and Peter Matthiessen, but these flat, sketchy accounts belie such comparisons. In the end, ``notes'' is an all-too-appropriate subtitle for this disappointing volume, which often seems like the skeleton of a more substantial work.--Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.