Rick Bass’s characters often find themselves…. I was going to finish that thought, but then realized I already had. They find themselves, in a place, with a problem. They are self-aware and honest about their predicaments. But it’s hard to generalize about Bass’s characters, because, in his story “The Prisoners,” for instance, he gives us those three “prisoners” going down the highway oblivious to their own hurts and needs. So much is wrong with their lives that catching a few fish cannot fix. That’s true for most of us. Yet wilderness and big land can help a lot. It is the way he brings all that is above, below, and on the earth to magical, mysterious life that keeps me turning the pages of his books well into the night.
Western writers do not “elevate” setting to the level of character the way literary scholars like to say we do. We simply recognize that the world we live in is all-encompassing. It is not a stage or backdrop for human interactions with one another. The places we inhabit influence everything about us. Maybe because we come from places where, as Bass says, “possibility still exists” we are less prone to disregarding so obvious a fact. Maybe if we didn’t come from such places, it would be too depressing to acknowledge that we can’t leave our prisons behind and head off to the wilderness to fish, or hunt, or camp. Or maybe we write in defense of those places, to stave off their gradual imprisonment, industrialization, and ruin.