Pile #11 “The Highest Tide” by Jim Lynch

4 Mar

The Highest Tide: a Novel / Jim Lynch.  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.  2010. Kindle Edition.

As always, the  original review can be found here: “The Highest Tide” http://www.amazon.com/review/R12KYOKY89C1G/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

You know its time to buy your own copy when you’ve checked out the same book more than three times from the library, and for me this is certainly true of The Highest Tide. So many passages cry out to be underlined and flagged, to be savored. I even re-read the book just for this review. A shocking admission, I know. Even more  shocking (at least potentially) is that this was the first fiction title I purchased for my Kindle (wonderful device a Kindle is: a dedicated platform for reading books, and only books (and periodical literature that happens to fit the screen size), not only can I hold more books in my hand than I used to, and can juggle them at the push of a button or two -a thing I like doing, alot- but it saves wear and tear on the physical volume, which doesn’t always hold up well in my grubby hands. And that doesn’t even consider the Kindle apps for PC and iPad that really assist the book review process).

Always looking

Miles O’Malley is a boy with a passion for exploring the tidal flats, and very good at finding things, ever since he read Rachel Carson at age 6. This all changes the summer he was thirteen. It starts as a normal summer, spent collecting sea-life to sell to local restaurants and aquariums, mooning over his former baby-sitter Angire Stegner, and helping to care for his elderly neighbor Florence. But, by the time of his first discovery made on the night of the lowest tide of the summer. He makes further discoveries, finds himself the subject of television and nationwide newspaper articles, even pursued by members of a religious cult because of his perceived insights into the meaning of life he finds along the seashore.

This is the summer he learns to see things about himself in the same way that he wants others to see things around them. He notes this early in the book: “In the space of a summer I’d learned that everything was changing, including me” (from the Question and Answer section).  Even old Florence, tells him “This is your summer, Miles. This is the summer that defines you” (p. 47).

The first thing to say about this book, in response to other reviewers, is that not all tales with a adolescent protagonist are for adolescents.  Miles chides us that

“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” (p.2).

These prescient comments come in the very beginning of the book, and are not the voice of thirteen year old Miles, but of middle aged Miles, looking back *back* on that summer, not experiencing it then and there as some other [Amazon] reviewers claim.  Simply put, the book is about life, in all its wonder, grittyness, and pettiness, in short the book stands as “an ovation for life itself” (p. 226).

The book is composed of 30 un-named chapters. Beyond the text itself there is a question-and-answer section, with the author, group study questions, a biographical note on the author, even a “love me” wall of complimentary reviews about the book -though the book can be enjoyed without the extras.

Maybe Jim Lynch is trying to tell us something

Miles’s story, as the title implies, is framed by the tides: it starts with the lowest night tide of the summer and that first discovery, and ends with the highest tide of the year (a freak, unexpected event, unless you happen to be looking for the signs).  The question to ask ourselves becomes is Miles different in the end than at the beginning of his “freakish summer”?  I think for Miles, the answer is yes.

The exploration of the tidal flats around his hometown, the opening of his eyes to what is really there, the relationships he has with family, friends, and other members of his community- it is through his looking in the tidal flats, that he has trained himself  to be able to look at himself and those around him. He does not always like what he sees, but he does not shy away from the seeing.  Along the way Miles, and Lynch, hopes to reawaken our own sense of wonder and magic about the life that lies all around us, whether on the border between see and land, or the hazy border that is the self.

The passage from ignorance to self-knowledge. Seeing life for what it is.  Finding your place in life. An environmental message about caring. The exuberance and passion of youth. – All these could be said to be messages contained in Lynch’s book.  I think, though, that Lynch’s message is much simpler, that it revolves around Miles’ declamation that “I just see what I see” (p72) and could be summed up by saying “its amazing what you can find if you simply look”.  Miles is looking around, and he too is seeing things in his life he never noticed before.  He sees his parents and their troubled and rocky relationship that just might end in divorce. He watches the slow, painful decline of his elderly friend Florence, and the equally deteriorating condition that Judge Stegner has to deals with in Angie and  her wild and self-destructive lifestyle and drug addiction. He observes his friend Phelps antics in regards to girls. Above all and always, though it is the Tidal Pools of Puget Sound, a character in itself, and the wondrous things about him that he discovers in this one summer.

The Sea’s the Thing

Some readers may become distracted, or even irritated with the long passages about marine life that abound in the novel, and in fact some reviewer complain about the long passages of, but they are in fact integral to the story, from the giant squid in the beginning to the many unexpected species found at the biodversity right before the climax of the story. It is in relating this information that Miles reveals his true self.  Even all the references to Rachel Carson, with its strong hint of ecological crusading, serve to reinforce, that the earth is speaking to us if we but take the time to really look, and listen.  It is not important to Miles -as it is for the students of the ‘School’ he meets- what we find, or whether it comes from science or new age religion, or from within oneself, but that we are looking.

When Miles starts sharing the maritime discoveries he has made, he goes off into another world (sort of like me0, I can just see him beginning to talk and talking more and more rapidly

Squirming with Life and Love

Admittedly, as other (Amazon) reviewers have pointed out, there is a lot of crude sex-on-the-brain imagery, and less than flattering descriptions of women, but this is a story about a boy entering upon adolescence, and there is a more than casual resemblance between the observed fecundity of the tidal shallows of Puget Sound and the growing sexual awareness of youth.  You can’t expect a character to be outstanding in all areas, now can you?  Even Miles admits this -right at the beginning he tells us “I was an increasingly horny, speed-reading thirteen-year-old insomniac” (p2).

On the one hand, the book is free of overtly graphic scenes of sexual or violent activity, but on the other hand, an atmosphere of sexual exploration is still present, reminding us (as if we needed any such reminder) that the sexual reproductive drive is as strong in man as in the rest of creation.  Yet he is still sensitive about these things, feeling guilty afterwards as he wrestles with his burgeoning desires. As Phelps passes on what he has ‘learned’ from others, Miles remarks that “Something about it made me feel defensive, as did most of the crap I heard directly or indirectly about what girls wanted.”(p. 54) and the changing tenor of his relationship with Angie, who finally agrees to wait for Miles perhaps caps his summer of self-discovery.

Defining Miles

So, in the end, we have a boy who finds himself, a girl who is beginning to find herself -thanks in part to Miles just being himself- after a young adult binge of sex, drugs, and rock music, and a town coming to grips with itself in the wake of  a summer of extra-ordinary yet natural occurrences. And it’s all related to Miles’ self-discovery.

note for readers of the Kindle version:   There ARE  typos, quite a few of them, sadly: I noticed lots of them  on several “pages”: 23, 78, 122, 123, 139, 143, 160, 188, 189, 195, 196, 205, 208, 240

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One Response to “Pile #11 “The Highest Tide” by Jim Lynch”

  1. Literacy-chic March 4, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Great review! I enjoyed reading.

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