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issue 52: March - April 2006

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This issue:
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

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The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch; Bloomsbury, 2005; paperback, April 2006

Thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley, who seems stuck in growth at four-foot-eight, is an extraordinary little boy. He seems wise
––and perhaps prophetic––well beyond his years. How has he learned so much about life? From observing the mud flats of Skookumchuck Bay in Olympia, Washington, where he is most likely to be found, day or night, for Miles is an insomniac and is apt to drift to the flats at all hours. Rachel Carson, whom he quotes, is an idol and mentor. It is with her keen eye that he sees and studies the abundant sea life of the bay. When something unusual appears he may keep it for his aquarium or sell it to a local (unscrupulous) buyer. But mainly he roams the flats in awe of its diverse and teeming life.

One night he discovers a giant squid on the shore, such as would never appear in the bay
––or hardly anywhere else in the world for that matter. Authorities are notified and scientists and the media rush to the site. Miles is interviewed and becomes a kind of celebrity, an unwanted status which only intensifies as the summer progresses and he happens upon a second bizarre find: a ragfish from the sea’s deepest abyss, usually only found in the bellies of sperm whales; with yet more freakish discoveries to follow.

Miles is filmed by the Olympia TV station and asked why so many unusual fish, not indigenous to the area, are now appearing. "Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something," he observes, immediately embarrassed by the trite and ready remark, which the media plays up no end.

His best friend Brooks, more intertested in sex and playing air guitar than the sea, is asked about Miles and quoted by the interviewers as saying: "He’s a freak. He’s a decent enough guy, but he’s a total freak when it comes to sea life." His favorite adult friend, Professor Kramer, calls him a gifted child, crediting him with two of South Sounds’ biggest finds ever; and Judge Stegner, his neighbor, sings his praises as well. Somehow, though, one headline ends up: The Beach Talks to Miles O’Malley. And people begin to suspect he has a supernatural connection to the sea.

A local cult, the Eleusinians, are interested in him and persuade him (against his parents’ wishes) to visit their center and speak with their leader, a Mrs. Love.

But other things are on Miles’ mind besides fish and fame: he worries that his parents are on the verge of divorce; and he’s lovesick over Judge Stegner’s daughter, Angela, his old babysitter, now a local rock star with a bipolar disorder. He also worries about his old neighbor, Florence, who is daily becoming more and more incapacitated by a cruel disease. He visits her regularly and listens to her psychic predictions. Is she a genuine visionary? She’s made bad calls before, but what about her two big predictions for that summer? If she’s the real deal, Miles would like to understand how she taps her power because maybe he’s . . . well, maybe he’s kind of special himself though he maintains a modest profile.

It proves to be quite a summer all in all, but amidst the coming-of-age rituals and the fantastic discoveries, what dominates the pages of this splendid debut novel is the awe and mystery of the sea, and how an entire universe can be revealed to the careful observer of a simple stretch of mud flat at low tide. Through Miles’ eyes we see the curious life forms of nudibranchs, geoducks, giant sea cucumbers, peacock flounder, mola molas, and moon jellies; and learn such facts such as that a barnacle’s penis can be four times as long as the diameter of its base, rolled up like a fire hose inside its shell, waiting for the right time to unfurl and feel around outside its shell for a willing mate.

"Most people realize the sea covers two-thirds of the planet, but few take the time to understand even a gallon of it," Miles says. After reading The Highest Tide, you’ll want to take the time. You’ll want to dig out your Rachel Carson. You’ll want, in Miles’ words, to "pay attention." JA

© 2006 The Barcelona Review
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issue 52: March April 2006

f i c t i o n

Kit Reed: Grand Opening
R.D.T Byrd: Fooling God
Terry DeHart: Chasing Angela
Steven Gullion: Old Maids
Patrick Cole: California Stop

picks from back issues

Adam Haslett The Beginnings of Grief
Neil LaBute Time Share

q u i z

American Lit and Culture of the 1960s
answers to last issue’s quiz, Harold Pinter

b o o k   r e v i e w s

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

r e g u l ar  f e a t u r e s

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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