“For A Little While”
By Brian Hurlbut
Shortly after moving to Montana in the summer of 1993 as a hopeful creative writing student, I discovered the writing of Rick Bass. First I read his nonfiction, most notably “Winter: Notes from Montana” – which at the time, being the first winter spent in my new state, seemed to reinforce my decision to move 2,500 miles from western New York. When I discovered “The Watch,” Bass’s first collection of short stories, I knew he was a writer that I would follow for a long time.
More than two decades later, it’s fitting that Bass gets a well-deserved compilation in the recently released “For A Little While.” This career-spanning collection includes 18 previously published stories and seven new works, showcasing the vivid, often gritty style that Bass is revered for.
Since Bass is often considered a writer of the West, it’s easy to forget that he grew up in Texas and honed his fiction while living in the South. Early stories in this collection feature characters from that region – Mississippi, Texas, the Gulf Coast – as well as places as far apart as New York and Utah.
In “The Legend of Pig Eye,” we follow a young bar fighter as he tries to brawl his way toward winning 100 fistfights so he can escape to New York City to be a professional boxer. In “Wild Horses,” bronc-buster Sydney tries to tame his grief by falling in love with his dead friend’s fiancée. Perhaps the most stirring work is “In Ruth’s Country,” in which Bass masterfully illustrates the inherent conflicts of growing up in Mormon country. A young, non-Mormon boy and a Mormon girl spend the summer falling in love over gin and tonics and late night rides in the desert, only to be torn apart by the rules of the church and a local bishop who seems to have it out for both of them.
As good as the older stories are in this collection, it’s the new ones that bolster the case for Bass as one of the best writers of his generation. Anyone who has followed small-town sports will appreciate “Coach,” where a teacher and lifelong coach gets hired to turn around a high school girls basketball team.
We follow the story of down and out logger Wilson, first in “The Blue Tree,” where an annual Christmas tree gathering excursion with his daughters becomes another example of why his wife is fed up with him. In An “Alcoholics Guide to Peru and Chile,” Wilson – now broke and separated from his wife – runs up his credit card in a last-ditch effort to bond with his daughters while struggling to hide his compulsion to drink.
For those new to Bass’s writing, “For A Little While” is a great introduction to a writer who deftly portrays the complexities of the human condition through his characters. If you’ve been following Bass during his lengthy career, this compilation serves as a brilliant reminder of his importance in American fiction, and as evidence that his best work might still be ahead of him.
Big Sky freelance writer Brian Hurlbut is the author of the “Insider’s Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks” (Globe-Pequot Press) and “Montana: Skiing the Last Best Place” (Great Wide Open Press). His writing has appeared in Montana Quarterly, Montana Magazine, Big Sky Journal, Mountain Outlaw, and Western Art and Architecture magazines, among others.