Saturday, March 6, 2010

The sea around us

The Highest Tide was Jim Lynch's first novel, published in 2005. Earlier this year, I read his second novel, Border Songs, and absolutely loved it. The earlier novel isn't quite on a par with that one but it is still a very good book.

Lynch seems to have a feel for oddball characters like the savant Border Patrol officer in his second novel. In this first book, his main character is a 13-year-old genius who is in love with the sea and Rachel Carson and his neighbor and former babysitter Angie Stegner, in that order. First and above everything though is his love for the sea. His knowledge of what lives there seems as big as the sea itself and when he starts discovering strange creatures in the Sound near his Olympia, Washington home, the world starts to take notice of little Miles O'Malley. He becomes a reluctant celebrity in his coming-of-age summer.

This book feels like an homage to Rachel Carson. Miles has memorized long passages from her book, The Sea Around Us, and he quotes from it at the least provocation. Near the end of the book, he quotes this passage to Angie Stegner:
"In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea - to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end."

The vastness of the sea is really the final frontier for exploration on earth. This womb from which life emerged is still the most mysterious place on our planet. What we really need are a few more Miles O'Malleys who get it all and can explain it to us. I have a feeling that they exist out there somewhere and that they would really enjoy this book.

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