Journal of Writing & Environment

Book Review: Rick Bass’ All the Land to Hold Us

All the Land to Hold Us
by Rick Bass
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (August 13, 2013)
Hardcover, $25

Review by Erin Schmiel

Rick Bass’s new novel, All the Land to Hold Us, encompasses several generations of characters who inhabit a barren salt land in Eastern Texas. New lovers, families, and circus elephants find themselves parched and lost, digging through the gritty whiteness for their lives.

Rick Bass is known for his writing from within the landscape about the Yaak Valley of Montana; he is passionate about its fate and beauty. His skill for writing landscape is also apparent in All the Land to Hold Us. A geologist by training, All the Land to Hold Us is Rick Bass’s first novel about oil drilling and eastern Texas, so familiar to him from his own life before the Yaak Valley, now made mythic in this new novel.

“A strange and powerful landscape summons strange and powerful happenings,” Bass writes in his new novel. Escaped circus elephants crossing the desert is one of his strange happenings. Characters and readers alike become drawn to these animals: caring for their fates, worried about their futures, and saddened by their loss. On the landscape itself, salt dunes bury houses, oil fields flair pillars of flame and pool lakes of oil. This land holds hearts, broken and still beating. It holds unlikely animals and forges unusual relationships.

All the characters are searching, hungry for the horizon, for love, for the future, for treasure, for something unnamed and ephemeral. Richard and Clarissa, looking for riches in the sand, live out their hopes of love and the tragic disintegration of it. Max Omo, seeker of salt, and Marie, his wife, searching for love and beauty in the barren salt flats, never come together to fulfill each others needs. The elephant searches for freedom. All of these characters search for salvation in the land, freedom from the past and from the future. Their hunger is never satisfied, their search is never complete.

Bass’s lyricism searches too for the perfect description, the word that captures it all. His prose meanders in a focused manner, digging deeper into the earth, into the hearts of his characters, knowing their lives and their wanting and revealing to his readers every drop of their deepest desires. Bass’s prose lives in the detail, in the vivid and sometimes odd meanderings of description. He invites you to settle in, get caught in the river of words, and enjoy the lolling current.

All the Land to Hold Us is a story of wanting; wanting not just the Earth’s bounties, but wanting each other. Bass’s novel holds the reader in a world at first foreign and alien, only to find the heart of the story as familiar as if it were our own.