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The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch
A teenager on the beach learns to make ripples in the real world
Wednesday 12 October 2005
Miles retreats from these problems into marine biology. He lives beside the Puget Sound in in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and is obsessed by the creatures that teem in its waters, from single-celled animals to leviathans washed up from the depths.
He is not left alone to pursue his aquatic interests. The combination of his diminutive stature and his habit of making emotive pronouncements on ecology proves irresistible to the media. After a couple momentous marine discoveries, he is a celebrity. Soon he is being accorded prophetic status, especially by the religious sect that decides he has spiritual insights to share.
Jim Lynch's prose in this first novel is often neatly lyrical. By moonlight, the mud flats are "an enormous glistening disc". During the day, Miles looks at the edge of his bay, "where cedars and firs cascaded to the beach like long summer dresses". The author displays equal economic grace with the sensitivities of youth. "Grown-ups are always more fascinated by what you might become than what you are," Miles thinks, when described as the next Jacques Cousteau.
Nonetheless, there is a problem with the way in which Lynch's protagonist supplies his readers with so much information about sea-life. We learn that the giant squid has two hearts, and that it is believed by some scientists to be the fastest swimmer in existence. When the male toadfish wishes to mate, Miles reveals, it vibrates his bladder so rapidly that the resulting humming noise can be a nuisance for houseboat residents.
Much of this exposition is diverting but often makes Miles into an autocue at the expense of his inner character. At times, the novel becomes an awkward amalgam but, mostly, it presents an absorbing interchange between the science of the sea and the hidden currents of life ashore.
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