Monday, October 20, 2014

Review of "All The Land To Hold Us" by Rick Bass - A Riveting Story of Deserts Both Topographical and Human

Rick Bass has written a novel that shimmers with the heat of the West Texas desert he describes so poetically in "All The Land To Hold Us." His writing is anchored to the land around Midland, Texas. Like the oilmen who play a significant role in the plot of the novel, the author drills deeply into hidden pockets of human emotion, motivation and and interaction and brings to them to the surface to be exposed to the light of day and examined from all angles.

The plot is too intriguing for me to give away too much of the substance of the narrative.  There is an initial love story between Rick and Clarissa. The relationship ends in a less than satisfying way.  In the next section, we look in on an anti-love story between Marie and Max, who move from Mexico to Texas and scratch out a hardscrabble life mining salt from the unforgiving Juan Cordona Lake.  Their marriage becomes as sere as the physical environment they inhabit.  There is a section that centers on Ruth, the spinster Mormon schoolmarm who stands against the rigidity and judgmentalism of the denizens of Midland.  Throw in a one-legged treasure hunter named Herbert Mix, add a few elephants - some real and some metaphorical - and you have the recipe for a highly entertaining and deeply moving account of life on the edge of the desert and the edge of survival.

Mr. Bass is brilliantly evocative in his descriptions of both place and people.  I could almost feel my own skin being encrusted with salt as the sweat evaporated from my arms, I could almost feel the pull of the Pecos River, carrying along some unexpected cargo.  Equally vivid are his descriptions of the characters he clearly cares about - and causes the reader to care about, as well.  His writing is full of metaphor - hearts as calcified as the desiccated beds of glassy sand, rivers of destiny running through each life, sink holes of collapsed hopes and dreams.

This is a thoroughly engaging and challenging book which is high in literary value and human understanding.



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