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The Highest Tide: A Novel Hardcover – August 11, 2005
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Miles O'Malley, 13-year-old insomniac, naturalist, worshipper of Rachel Carson, and dweller on the mud flats of Skookumchuck Bay, at the South end of Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington, is the irresistible center of The Highest Tide. He says, "I learned early on that if you tell people what you see at low tide they'll think you're exaggerating or lying when you're actually just explaining strange and wonderful things as clearly as you can" and "People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine."
And what a summer he has! Miles, who is licensed to collect marine specimens for money, slips into his kayak late one night when he can't sleep and begins his exploratory rounds. What he sees is not the usual collectibles. He hears a deep exhale, a sound of release, and comes eye to eye with a giant squid. But, there are no giant squid in Puget Sound or anywhere around it--and when they are seen by humans, they are always dead. His discovery is confirmed by Professor Kramer, a local biologist and Miles's friend. Television cameras arrive, everyone wants to interview this small-for-his-age but very smart boy and the events of the summer begin to unfold.
Jim Lynch has an ability to tell a tale that glows on every page. He knows everything that lives in or near the water by name and habit. This knowledge and his sense of wonder at the natural world brings the reader very close to his story, both in its setting and its characters. One early morning Miles says, "...the water was so clear I could see coon-stripe shrimp ... and the bottomless bed of white clam shells ... Those shells, as unique and timeless as bones, helped me realize that we all die young, that in the life of the earth, we are houseflies, here for one flash of light." Such insights are perfectly natural coming from Miles, whose interests are not garden-variety. He has a mad crush on the mixed-up 18-year-old girl next door, a randy age-mate named Phelps, and a deep friendship with Florence, the elderly woman his mother refers to as "a crazy witch." Florence is a psychic of sorts and her powers come into play when she predicts an extremely high tide on a certain day.
All of these relationships and what is happening between Miles's parents are part of this event-filled, life-changing summer. Early on, Miles says off the top of his head, when asked by a TV reporter why a deep-sea creature has found its way to his front yard, "Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something." What the earth and the sea and the people in Miles's life are all trying to tell him is what he susses out in the days that follow--before that high tide.
This absolutely luminous first novel has all the earmarks of a classic. The Highest Tide is destined to be read, re-read, and to remain on bookshelves for the enjoyment of generations to come. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The fertile strangeness of marine tidal life becomes a subtly executed metaphor for the bewilderments of adolescence in this tender and authentic coming-of-age novel, Lynch's first. As a precocious, undersized 13-year-old living on the shore of Puget Sound, in Washington State, Miles O'Malley has developed a consuming passion for the abundant life of the tidal flats. His simple pleasure in observing is tested and complicated over the course of a remarkable summer, when he finds a giant squid, a discovery that brings him the unwelcome attention of scientists, TV reporters and a local cult. Meanwhile, Miles's remote parents are considering a divorce; his best friend, Florence, an elderly retired psychic, is dying of a degenerative disease; his sex-obsessed buddy, Phelps, mocks his science-geek knowledge; and his desperate crush on Angie Stegner, the troubled girl next door, both inspires and humiliates him. Events build toward the date of a record high tide, and Miles slowly sorts out his place in the adult world. While occasionally Lynch packs too much into a small story, this moving, unusual take on the summers of childhood conveys a contagious sense of wonder at the variety and mystery of the natural world.
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Top Customer Reviews
He still has the curiosity of a sexually questioning boy, but he’s full of energy and nonsensical whims. He can play the fool the way most of us have while growing up. But somewhere in the deepest recesses of a marvelous brain, he has fantastic observational ability and deep-seated mental obstinacy. He has the outward appearance of rejecting notoriety but, in reality, relishes the public attention he receives for his observations in the tidal flats of Puget Sound. He cares about other people and their problems.
Author Jim Lynch has the mastery of this complicated story well in hand. His scientific knowledge is well honed. His scenic depictions are vivid. His dialogue is spot on with local dialect well fashioned. There is tenderness in his characters, as well as raucous behavior, that is startling in its honesty and humor. Because of its opulence, it’s difficult to accept this story as a first effort. But subsequent reading of Lynch’s work leaves no doubt as to his magnificent talent.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES
A first novel, no less! Good heavens, what more is to come from this gifted writer???
In this Jim Lynch novel Miles O'Malley is a 13 year old kid who lives at the edge of Mud Bay. He has his hands full of growing up, not just in a non-standard place but among a lot of equally non-standard people who impinge on his life in a way that you'd probably never expect if you grew up in a typical sub-urban neighborhood peopled with more cookie cutter folks. The only thing about his family that is sadly now more "normal" is that his parents are breaking up. They've lost interest in one another and maybe never had any in the first place. Miles loves them, but he doesn't seem to be really very high on their personal lists.
Miles has others in his life of course, Adolescent boys near his own age, none of whom would win any contests for wisdom, even vestigial maturity, or smarts, but all of whom share a kid-sized mutual loyalty. Most of their conversations seem to be focused on breasts, the opposite sex and what goes on with them "down there." Miles own female interests range from his own age to an elderly and mostly handicapped old neighbor lady who has been generally written off as a "psychic" nutcase. Miles protects and helps her and admires her own strange and insightful friendship. But his real love is the Bay itself and the enormous profusion of life from great to near invisible that it nurtures.
Mile also happens to be extraordinarily capable of learning about and understanding the nature of life in the Bay and on its tidal flanks. He ends up repeatedly making significant news locally and wider about surprising discoveries that start to catapult him into an exotic celebrity category despite his own efforts to just be himself. His effort to balance his growing notoriety, with his burgeoning hormonal urges, and dreams and the temptations offered by his coterie of adolescent mates, and his own blindingly well-informed talent for natural sciences creates a story that is not only sheer fun, but that introduces the reader to a world of cosmic complexity in the microcosm of Mud Bay.
Lynch's imagination, research and story-telling abilities have created a novel of immense readability, integrity and character. You can lose--and find--yourself when the Highest Tide sweeps into Mud Bay.
(spoiler alert, some plot elements are revealed here.)
The pace of the story lost me for awhile because I kept waiting for a serious conflict or mystery to develop. Instead, the plot formed an accumulation of challenges which Miles seemed to tolerate rather than resolve. I was sure that some geological mayhem or maybe even secret government conspiracy was going to surface that explained the sudden appearance of the giant squid and the invasion of the chinese crabs etc.
My only comment on style is Jim Lynch never saw a metaphor or simile that he could resist. The text is filled with "like..." and "as if..." comparisons don't leave much to the reader to imagine.
Overall, good light read though.