The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

March 14, 2008

The Highest Tide is an exquisite coming of age story of that uses the mysteries of the life aquatic as a backdrop. Miles O’Malley is a special thirteen year old who has a talent for identifying all sorts of strange sea creatures.

Miles is somewhat of a child protégé, a speed reader from an early age, who loves to quote beloved nature writer Rachel Carson, he seems more obsessed with identifying the creatures of the tidal flats outside his home than mucking around with boys his own age. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the ocean enables him to collect specimens that he sells to aquariums and to local restaurants in Olympia.

All that changes the summer before his 14th birthday, when Miles hears a strange sound. He soon finds himself face-to-face with a giant squid; a species that doesn’t live anywhere near Puget Sound. Almost overnight, he’s discovering other rarely seen sea creatures in the tidal flats. Suddenly, the young boy is thrust into the spotlight, quickly hailed by his community as a local hero, perhaps even a prophet.

Lately however, the winds of change have been bothering Miles. His working class parents have been hinting at divorce, His mother feels as though she’s stranded in her tiny stilted house with an un-ambitious baseball fanatic who still barhops with is high school pals.

His elderly neighbour and best friend, the psychically inclined Florence, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and it’s not that he can’t imagine losing her, but her growing feebleness fits into the fact that he senses that everything is about to shift beneath him.

Miles notices that the bay itself is seemingly shifting into something else – “a trophy view for people rich enough to build houses on the Sunset Estates.” He decides that his goal for the rest of the summer is to stop things from changing,” to keep my bay, as I knew it intact.”

But it doesn’t help that Miles is obsessed with local bi-polar girl Rachel Carson. And that fellow friend and partner in crime, Phelps, while intent to impart healthy discussions about “Christy Decker’s rack,” also nags Miles about sex. The tide begins to rise, just as Florence predicted, and Miles soon finds himself sought after by scientists, journalists, and a group of strange, new-age cult members.

Of course, the young man takes most of this in his stride, as his coming-of-age cleverly coincides with a period of tumult in the ocean and the world around him. Miles never feels sadness on the bay, where the seashells, are as “unique and timeless as bones,” where life is much denser in the sea than the air, and where the ocean spits stuff up on the beach, sending us postcards that we don’t know how to read yet.

The prose is beautiful: “The albino moon so close and bright it seemed to give off heat,” and the narrative philosophy simple and wise: “the wonders of the ocean show that we all die young, that in the life of the earth, we are houseflies, here for one flash of light.” Author, Jim Lynch, has not only written a sensitive story of a responsive and remarkable young boy, but he also writes so expertly about the world of the tides.

It’s a world where life descends into everything, every crack, every shell, and even between grains of sand. “Life on top of life, barnacles and limpets stuck to oyster shells, clinging to each other, piggybacking on larger shells and barnacles on top of everything.” This crisp and clean world utterly captures Miles, and Lynch, through his delicate and intuitive storytelling, ensures that we are captured too. Mike Leonard September 05.

Author: Jim Lynch


One Response to “The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch”

  1. Rasmuszs on March 26th, 2008 8:44 pm

    thats it, dude

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