For a Little While


By Rick Bass

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Long considered one of the most gifted practitioners of the short story, Rick Bass is unsurpassed in his ability to perceive and portray the enduring truths of the human heart. Now, at last, we have the definitive collection of stories, new and old, from the writer Newsweek has called “an American classic.” To read his fiction is to feel more alive — connected, incandescently, to “the brief longshot of having been chosen for the human experience,” as one of his characters puts it.

These pages reveal men and women living with passion and tenderness at the outer limits of the senses, each attempting to triumph against fate. Bass provides searing insights into the complexity of family and romantic entanglements, and his lush and striking language draws us ineluctably into the lives of these engaging people and their vivid surroundings. The intricate stories collected in For A Little While — brimming with magic and wonder, filled with hard-won empathy, marbled throughout with astonishing imagery — have the power both to devastate and to uplift. Together they showcase an iconic American master at his peak.


Selected Stories

Some dive into the sea

Some toil upon the stone

—Townes Van Zandt

Wild Horses

Karen was twenty-six. She had been engaged twice, married once. Her husband had run away with another woman after only six months. It still made her angry when she thought about it, which was not often.

The second man she had loved more, the most. He was the one she had been engaged to, but had not married. His name was Henry. He had drowned in the Mississippi the day before they were to be wed. They never even found the body. He had a marker in the cemetery, but it was a sham. All her life, Karen had heard those stories about fiancés dying the day before the wedding, and then it had happened to her.

Henry and some of his friends, including his best friend, Sydney Bean, had been sitting up on the railroad trestle that ran so far and across that river, above the wide muddiness. Louisiana and trees on one side; Mississippi and trees, and some farms, on the other side. There had been a full moon and no wind, and they were sitting above the water, maybe a hundred feet above it, laughing, and drinking Psychos from the Daiquiri World over in Delta, Louisiana. The Psychos were rum and Coca-Cola and various fruit juices and blue food coloring. They came in Styrofoam cups the size of small trash cans, so large they had to be held with both hands. Sydney had had two of them; Henry, three.

Henry had stood up, beaten his chest like Tarzan, shouted, and then dived in. It had taken him forever to hit the water. The light from the moon was good, and they had been able to watch him all the way down.

Sometimes Sydney Bean still came by to visit Karen. Sydney was gentle and sad, her own age, and he worked on his farm, out past Utica, back to the east, where he also broke and sometimes trained horses.

Once a month—at the end of each month—Sydney would stay over on Karen’s farm, and they would go into her big empty closet, and he would let her hit him: striking him with her fists, kicking him, kneeing him, slapping his face until his ears rang and his nose bled; slapping and swinging at him until she was crying and her hair was wild and in her eyes, and the palms of her hands hurt too much to hit him anymore.

It built up, the ache and the anger in Karen; and then, hitting Sydney, it went away for a while. He was a good friend. But the trouble was that it always came back.

Sometimes Sydney would try to help her in other ways. He would tell her that someday she was going to have to realize Henry would not be coming back. Not ever—not in any form—but to remember what she and Henry had had, to keep that from going away.

Sydney would stand there, in the closet, and let her strike him. But the rules were strict: she had to keep her mouth closed. He would not let her call him names while she was hitting him.

Though she wanted to.

After it was over, and she was crying, more drained than she had felt since the last time, sobbing, Sydney would help her up. He would take her into the bedroom and towel her forehead with a cool washcloth. Karen would be crying in a child’s gulping sobs, and he would brush her hair, hold her hand, sometimes hold her against him, and pat her back while she moaned.

Farm sounds would come from the field, and when she looked out the window, she might see her neighbor, old Dr. Lynly, the vet, driving along in his ancient blue truck, moving along the bayou, down along the trees, with his dog, Buster, running alongside, barking, herding cows together for vaccinations.


“I can still feel the hurt,” Karen would tell Sydney sometimes, when he came over not to be beaten up but to cook supper for her, or to sit on the back porch with her, and watch the fields.

Sydney nodded whenever Karen said she still hurt, and studied his hands.

“I could have grabbed him,” he’d say, and then look up and out at the field some more. “I keep thinking that one of these years, I’m going to get a second chance.” Sydney would shake his head again. “I think I could have grabbed him,” he’d say.

“Or you could have dived in after him,” Karen would say. “Maybe you could have dived in after him.”

Her voice would trail off, and her face would be flat and weary.

On these occasions, Sydney Bean wanted the beatings to come once a week, or even daily. But they hurt, too, almost as much as the loss of his friend, and he said nothing. He still felt as if he owed Henry something. He didn’t know what.

Sometimes, when he was down on his knees and Karen was kicking him or elbowing him, he felt close to it—and he almost felt angry at Karen—but he could never catch the shape of it, only the feeling.

He wanted to know what was owed, so he could go on.

On his own farm, there were cattle down in the fields, and they would get lost, separated from one another, and would low all through the night. It was a sound like soft thunder in the night, before the rain comes, and he liked it.

He raised the cattle, and saddle-broke the young horses that had never been ridden before, the one- and two-year-olds, the stallions, the wild mares. That pounding, and the evil, four-footed stamp-and-spin they went into when they could not shake him: when they began to do that, he knew he had them beaten. He charged two hundred and fifty dollars a horse, and sometimes it took him a month.


Old Dr. Lynly needed a helper but couldn’t pay much, and Sydney, who had done some business with the vet, helped Karen get the job. She needed something to do besides sitting around on her back porch, waiting for the end of each month.

Dr. Lynly was older than Karen had thought he would be, when she met him up close. He had that look to him that told her it might be the last year of his life. It wasn’t so much any illness or feebleness or disability. It was just a finished look.

He and Buster—his six-year-old Airedale—lived within the city limits of Vicksburg, down below the battlefield, hidden in one of the ravines. His house was up on blocks as the property flooded with almost every rain—and in his yard, in various corrals and pens, were chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, ponies, horses, cows, and an ostrich. It was illegal to keep them as pets, and the city newspaper editor was after him to get rid of them, but Dr. Lynly claimed they were all being treated by his tiny clinic.

“You’re keeping these animals too long, Doc,” the editor told him. Dr. Lynly would pretend to be senile and that the editor was asking for a prescription, and would begin quoting various random chemical names.

The Airedale minded Dr. Lynly exquisitely. He brought the paper, the slippers, left the room on command, and he brought the chickens’ eggs, daily, into the kitchen, making several trips for his and Dr. Lynly’s breakfast. Dr. Lynly would fry six eggs for himself, and Buster would get a dozen or so broken into his bowl raw. Any extras went into the refrigerator for Dr. Lynly to take on his rounds, though he no longer had many; only the very oldest people, who remembered him, and the poorest, who knew he worked for free and would charge them only for the medicine.

Buster’s black-and-tan coat was glossy from the eggs, and his eyes, deep in the curls, were bright. He watched Dr. Lynly all the time.

Sometimes Karen watched Dr. Lynly play with Buster, bending down and swatting him in the chest, slapping his shoulders. She had thought the job would be mostly kittens and lambs, but she was mistaken.

Horses, the strongest creatures, were the ones that got the sickest, he said, and their pain was unspeakable when they finally did yield to it. On rounds with Dr. Lynly, Karen forgot to think about Henry at all. She was horrified by the horses’ pain, almost wishing it were hers, bearing it rather than watching it.


Once, when Sydney was with her, he had reached out and taken her hand in his. When she looked down and saw it, she had at first been puzzled, not recognizing what it was, and then repulsed, as if it were a giant slug, and she threw Sydney’s hand off hers and ran into her room.

Sydney stayed out on the porch. It was heavy blue twilight and the cattle down in the fields were feeding.

“I’m sorry,” he called out. “But I can’t bring him back!” He waited for her to answer, but could only hear her crying. It had been three years.

He knew he was wrong to have caught her off-balance like that: but he was tired of her unhappiness and frustrated that he could do nothing to end it. The sounds of her crying carried, and the cows down in the fields began to move closer. The light had dimmed: there were dark shadows, and a low gold thumbnail of a moon—a wet moon—came up over the ragged tear of trees by the bayou.

The beauty of the evening, being on Karen’s back porch and in her life when it should have been Henry, flooded Sydney with a sudden guilt. He had been fighting it, and holding it back: and then, suddenly, the quiet stillness of the evening released it, and he heard himself saying a crazy thing.

“I pushed him off, you know,” he said, loud enough so she could hear. “I finished my drink, and put both hands on his skinny-ass little shoulders, and said, ‘Take a deep breath, Henry.’ I just pushed him off.”

It felt good, making up the lie. He was surprised at the relief he felt: it was as if he had control of the situation. It was like when he was on the horses, breaking them, trying to stay on.

Presently, Karen came back out with a small blue pistol, a .38, and she put it next to his head.

“Let’s get in the truck,” she said.

He knew where they were going.

The river was about ten miles away, and they took their time. There was fog flowing across the low parts of the road and through the fields and meadows like smoke, coming from the woods, and he was thinking about how cold and hard the water would be when he finally hit.

He felt as if he were already falling toward it, the way it had taken Henry forever to fall. But he didn’t say anything, and though it didn’t feel right, he wondered if perhaps it was this simple; as if this was what was owed after all.

They drove on, past the blue fields and the spills of fog. The roofs of the hay barns were bright silver polished tin, under the little moon and stars. There were small lakes, cattle stock tanks, and steam rose from them.

They drove with the windows down. It was a hot night, full of flying bugs, and about two miles from the river Karen told him to stop.

He pulled off to the side of the road, and wondered what she was going to do with his body. A cattle egret flew by, ghostly white and large, flying slowly, and Sydney was amazed that he had never recognized their beauty before, though he had seen countless numbers of them. It flew right across their windshield, from across the road, and it startled both of them.

The radiator ticked.

“You didn’t really push him off, did you?” Karen asked. She still had the pistol against his head, and had switched hands.

Like frost burning off the grass in a bright morning sun, there was in his mind a sudden, sugary, watery feeling—like something dissolving. She was not going to kill him after all.

“No,” he said.

“But you could have saved him,” she said, for the thousandth time.

“I could have reached out and grabbed him,” Sydney agreed. He was going to live. He was going to get to keep feeling things, was going to get to keep seeing things.

He kept his hands in his lap, not wanting to alarm Karen, but his eyes moved all around as he looked for more egrets. He was eager to see another one.

Karen watched him for a while, still holding the pistol against him, and then turned it around and looked at the open barrel of it, cross-eyed, and held it there, right in her face, for several seconds. Then she reached out and put it in the glove box.

Sydney Bean was shuddering.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for not shooting yourself.”

He put his head down on the steering wheel, in the moonlight, and shuddered again. There were crickets calling all around them. They sat like that for a long time, Sydney leaning against the wheel, and Karen sitting up straight, just looking out at the fields.

Then the cattle began to move up the hill toward them, thinking that Karen’s old truck had come to feed them. They drifted up the hill from all over the fields, and from their nearby resting spots on the sandbars along the little dry creek that ran down into the bayou; and eventually, they all assembled around the truck.

They stood there in the moonlight, some with white faces like skulls, all about the same size, and chewed grass and watched the truck. One, bolder than the rest—a yearling black Angus—moved in close, bumped the grill of the truck with his nose, playing, and then leapt back again, scattering some of the others.

“How much would you say that one weighs?” Karen asked. “How much, Sydney?”

They drove the last two miles to the river. It was about four a.m. The yearling cow was bleating and trying to break free; Sydney had tied him up with his belt, and with jumper cables and shoelaces, and an old shirt. His lip was bloody from where the calf had butted him.

But he had wrestled larger steers than that before.

They parked at the old bridge, the one the trains still used to cross. Farther downriver, they could see an occasional car, two round spots of headlight moving steadily across the new bridge, so far above the river, going very slowly. Sydney put his shoulders under the calf’s belly and lifted it with his back and legs, and like a prisoner in the stock, he carried it out to the center of the bridge. Karen followed. It took about fifteen minutes to get there, and Sydney was trembling, dripping with sweat, when they gauged they had reached the middle, the deepest part.

They sat there, soothing the frightened calf, stroking its ears, patting its flanks, and waited for the sun to come up. When it did, pale orange behind the great steaminess of the trees and river below—the fog from the river and trees a gunmetal gray, the whole world washed in gray flatness, except for the orange disk of the sun—they untied the calf, and pushed him over.

They watched him forever and forever, a black object and then a black spot against the great background of dirt-colored river, and then there was a tiny white splash, lost almost immediately in the river’s current. Logs, which looked like twigs from up on the bridge, swept across the spot. Everything headed south, and there were no eddies, no pauses.

“I am halfway over him,” Karen said.

And then, walking back, she said: “So that was really what it was like?”

She had a good appetite, and they stopped at the Waffle House and ate eggs and pancakes, and sausage and biscuits and bacon and orange juice. She excused herself to go to the restroom, and when she came back out, her face was washed, her hair brushed and clean-looking. Sydney paid for the meal, and when they stepped outside, the morning was growing hot.

“I have to work today,” Karen said, when they got back to her house. “We have to go see about a mule.”

“Me, too,” said Sydney. “I’ve got a stallion who thinks he’s a bad-ass.”

She studied him for a second, and felt like telling him to be careful, but didn’t. Something was in her, a thing like hope stirring, and she felt guilty for it.

Sydney whistled, driving home, and tapped his hands on the steering wheel, though the radio did not work.


Dr. Lynly and Karen drove until the truck wouldn’t go any farther, bogged down in the clay, and then they got out and walked. It was cool beneath all the big trees, and the forest seemed to be trying to press in on them. Dr. Lynly carried his heavy bag, stopping and switching arms frequently. Buster trotted ahead, between the two of them, looking left and right and up the road, and even up into the tops of the trees.

There was a sawmill, deep in the woods, where the delta farmland in the northern part of the county settled at the river and then went into dark mystery: hardwoods and muddy roads, then no roads. The men at the sawmill used mules to drag their trees to the cutting. There had never been money for bulldozers, or even tractors. The woods were quiet, and foreboding; it seemed to be a place without sound or light.

When they got near the sawmill, they could hear the sound of axes. Four men, shirtless, in muddy boots with the laces undone, were working on the biggest tree Karen had ever seen. It was a tree too big for chain saws. Had any of the men owned one, the tree would have ruined the saw.

One of the men kept swinging at the tree: putting his back into it, with rhythmic, stroking cuts. The other three stepped back, hitched their pants, and wiped their faces with their forearms.

The fourth man stopped cutting finally. There was no fat on him and he was pale, even standing in the beam of sunlight that was coming down through an opening in the trees—and he looked old: fifty, maybe, or sixty. Some of his fingers were missing.

“The mule’ll be back in a minute,” he said. He wasn’t even breathing hard. “He’s gone to bring a load up out of the bottom.” He pointed with his ax, down into the swamp.

“We’ll just wait,” said Dr. Lynly. He bent back and tried to look up at the top of the trees. “Y’all just go right ahead with your cutting.”

But the pale muscled man was already swinging again, and the other three, with another tug at their beltless pants, joined in: an odd, pausing drumbeat, as four successive whacks hit the tree; then four more again; and then, almost immediately, the cadence shortened, growing irregular, as the older man chopped faster.

All around them the soft pittings, like hail, of tree chips rained into the bushes. One of the chips hit Buster in the nose, and he rubbed it with his paw, and turned and looked up at Dr. Lynly.

They heard the mule before they saw him: he was groaning, like a person. He was coming up the hill that led out of the swamp and was heading toward them.

They could see the tops of small trees and saplings shaking as he dragged his load through them. Then they could see the tops of his ears, then his huge head, and after that they saw his chest. Veins raced against the chestnut thickness of it.

Then the tops of his legs. And then his knee. Karen stared at it and then sat down in the mud, and hugged herself—the men stopped swinging, for just a moment—and Dr. Lynly had to help her up.

It was the mule’s right knee that was injured, and it had swollen to the size of a basketball. It buckled with every step he took, pulling the sled up the slick and muddy hill, but he kept his footing and did not stop. Flies buzzed around the knee, around the infections, where the loggers had pierced the skin with nails and the ends of their knives, trying to drain the pus. Dried blood ran down in streaks to the mule’s hoof, to the mud.

The sawlogs on the back of the sled smelled good, fresh. They smelled like they were still alive.

Dr. Lynly walked over to the mule and touched the knee. The mule closed his eyes and trembled, as Karen had just done, or perhaps as if in ecstasy, at the chance to rest. The three younger men, plus the sledder, gathered around.

“We can’t stop workin’ him,” the sledder said. “We can’t shoot him either. We’ve got to keep him alive. He’s all we’ve got. If he dies, it’s us that’ll have to pull them logs up here.”

A cedar moth from the woods passed over the mule’s ears, fluttering. It rested on the mule’s forehead, and then flew off. The mule did not open his eyes. Dr. Lynly frowned and rubbed his chin. Karen felt faint again, and leaned against the mule’s sweaty back to keep from falling.

“You sure you’ve got to keep working him?” Dr. Lynly asked.

“Yes, sir.”

The pale logger was still swinging: tiny chips flying in batches.

Dr. Lynly opened his bag. He took out a needle and rag, and a bottle of alcohol. He cleaned the mule’s infections. The mule drooled a little when the needle went in, but he did not open his eyes. The needle was slender, and it bent and flexed, and slowly Dr. Lynly drained the fluid.

Karen held on to the mule’s wet back and vomited into the mud: both her hands on the mule as if she were being arrested against the hood of a car, and her feet spread wide. The men gripped their axes and looked away.

Dr. Lynly gave one of them a large plastic jug of pills.

“These will kill his pain,” he said. “The knee will get big again, though. I’ll be back out, to drain it again.” He handed Karen a clean rag from his satchel, and led her away from the mule, away from the mess.

One of the ax men carried their satchel all the way back to the truck. Dr. Lynly let Karen get up into the cab first, and then Buster; then the ax man rocked and shoved, pushing on the hood of the truck as the tires spun, and helped them back it out of the mud: their payment for healing the mule. A smell of burning rubber and smoke hung in the trees after they left.

They didn’t talk much. Dr. Lynly was thinking about the painkillers; how for a moment, he had almost given the death pills instead.

Karen was thinking how she would not let him pay her for that day’s work. Also she was thinking about Sydney Bean: she would sit on the porch with him again, and maybe drink a beer and watch the fields.

He was sitting on the back porch when she got home; he was on the wooden bench next to the hammock, and he had a tray set up for her with a pitcher of cold orange juice. There was froth in the pitcher, a light creamy foaminess from where he had been stirring it, and the ice cubes were circling around. Beads of condensation slid down the pitcher, rolling slowly, then quickly, like tears. She could feel her heart giving. The field was rich summer green, and then, past the field, the dark line of trees. A long string of cattle egrets flew past, headed down to their rookery in the swamp.

Sydney poured her a small glass of orange juice. He had a metal pail of cold water and a clean washcloth. It was hot on the back porch, even for evening. He helped her get into the hammock; then he wrung the washcloth out and put it across her forehead, her eyes. Sydney smelled as if he had just gotten out of the shower, and he was wearing clean white duckcloth pants and a bright blue shirt.

She felt dizzy and leaned back in the hammock. The washcloth over her eyes felt so good. She sipped the orange juice, not looking at it, and licked the light foam of it from her lips. Owls were beginning to call, down in the swamp.

She felt as if she were younger, going back to a place, some place she had not been in a long time but could remember fondly. It felt like she was in love. She knew that she could not be, but that was what it felt like.

Sydney sat behind her and rubbed her temples.

It grew dark, and the moon came up.

“It was a rough day,” she said, around ten o’clock.

But he just kept rubbing.

Around eleven o’clock, she dozed off, and he woke her, helped her from the hammock, and led her inside, not turning on any lights, and helped her get in bed.

Then he went back outside, locking the door behind him. He sat on the porch a little longer, watching the moon, so high above him, and then he drove home cautiously, as ever. Accidents were everywhere; they could happen at any time, from any direction.

Sydney moved carefully, and tried to look ahead and be ready for the next one.

He really wanted her. He wanted her in his life. Sydney didn’t know if the guilt was there for that—the wanting—or because he was alive, still seeing things, still feeling. He wanted someone in his life, and it didn’t seem right to feel guilty about it. But he did.


Sometimes, at night, he would hear the horses running, thundering across the hard summer-baked flatness of his pasture, running wild—and he would imagine they were laughing at him for wasting his time feeling guilty, but it was a feeling he could not shake, could not ride down, and his sleep was often poor and restless.

Sydney often wondered if horses were even meant to be ridden at all.

The thing about the broncs, he realized—and he never realized it until they were rolling on top of him in the dust, or rubbing him off against a tree, or against the side of a barn, trying to break his leg—was that if the horses didn’t get broken, tamed, they’d get wilder. There was nothing as wild as a horse that had never been broken. It just got meaner, each day.

So he held on. He bucked and spun and arched and twisted, shooting up and down with the mad horses’ leaps; and when the horse tried to hurt itself, by running straight into something—a fence, a barn, the lake—he stayed on.

If there was, once in a blue moon, a horse not only stronger, but more stubborn than he, then he had to destroy it.


  • Praise for For A Little While

    "In For a Little While we have a core sample of a literary titan. At last. For what comes into focus in this collection is that Bass hasn't been writing just to save our wild places, but to save what's wild and humane and best within us. Bass is, hands down, a master of the short form, creating in a few pages a natural world of mythic proportions . . . Bass's world-building is so beautiful, crisp, and perfect . . . He renders every detail with bracing exactness . . . In every story in this collection, Bass goes into the heart of the matter . . . As you roll through this rollicking survey of Bass's fiction you begin to feel an uncomplicated holy motion . . . The pleasure and privilege of reading Rick Bass is to see how sacred we are . . . The greatest joy in For a Little While is the belief, in story after story, in the goodness of all things on this earth, including us."
    Smith Henderson, New York Times Book Review
  • "For a Little While offers ongoing and fresh evidence that Bass continues to be a master of the short story . . . These heartbreaking, strangely elegiac yet hopeful stories give us the range of what a story can be. Some bloom into tales with nearly all the depth of a novel . . . Others serve as elegant grace notes to entire lives . . . Still other stories work like high lonesome ballads, wrangling loss, love, and hope into haunting harmonies that chill to the bone. The opening story, 'Wild Horses,' is as deeply moving a story as I've read. It traces the slow path toward the ability to love, despite scars that won't ever disappear . . . The influences one can feel in these pages include not only the realist troika of Carver and Ford and Tobias Wolff, but also William Faulkner and Barry Hannah, Gabriel García Márquez, and Eudora Welty too; there's even Tolstoy of the late fables in which people off another grid entirely bear witness to the fact of their own cruel and graceful existence. But everywhere in this beautiful summary collection is a singular voice, that of Rick Bass and Rick Bass only, a writer whose early promise continues to be an enduring gift to readers. Here's to thirty more years."—Bret Lott, Boston Globe
  • "A profoundly satisfying collection, a plunge into rich and varied lives and landscapes. Bass's prose is charged with a lyrical intensity rare in American fiction. The beauty of his sentences recalls the stylistic finesse of McCarthy and Willa Cather, but he does more than just write prettily. Reading Rick Bass offers the deep pleasure of reinhabiting an older world, one that's not lost so much as latent and usually unnoticed . . . Bass, like McCarthy or Faulkner, reaches the universal by revealing the hidden infinities of the particular, both in humans and the landscapes they occupy . . . His metaphors proliferate with an inexhaustible fecundity . . . Bass's short fiction features many ecstatic, dangerous moments-a brush with a mountain lion at dusk, the surging adrenaline of a firefighter in a collapsing house, a girl's pride and confusion after killing her first elk. But he's also capable of wry humor and great subtlety . . . Each line of Bass's extraordinary prose brings you more awake."
    Nick Romeo, Chicago Tribune
  • "Bass is a keen and relentless observer of woods and praries and beasts of every variety....He writes with special feeling about loneliness....His best stories bring life and death within a hair's breadth of each other...They display clarity and heart and moral vision, and glow like a well-stoked wood stove."
    Dwight Garner, New York Times
  • "Glorious...Extraordinary...Heartbreaking...Transcendent...Bass is an acknowledged master of the short story...His greatest gift, what makes Rick Bass one of the very best writers we have, is his understanding of the soft hearts within even the hardest people."
    Porter Shreve, San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Rick Bass joins the pantheon of contemporary masters . . . For a Little While showcases his enigmatic talent, his passion for the dispossessed, and a style of beguiling strangeness like no other . . . Bass's gentle surrealism is reflected in iridescent sentences that ebb and flow, opening spaces for deeper meaning to emerge. For a Little While casts a spell both mythic and intimate, through the words of a virtuoso."

    Hamilton Cain, O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "For a Little While is a treasure trove . . . Rick Bass writes fiction with almost mythic plot devices that unfold with an authenticity that is startling . . . His talents are most evident in his masterful short stories . . . As he demonstrates in story after story, Bass can lift a common moment into a shared experience that is universal."—Tim McNulty, Seattle Times
  • "If any contemporary writer of short fiction deserves to take the victory lap symbolized by a collection of selected stories, it's Rick Bass . . . [This collection] should win Bass new fans while inducing his admirers to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about this versatile and sensitive writer . . . One of the marks of a rich, layered, rewarding story is that you can read it at different ages and stages of your life and be struck by distinct facets of it, and perhaps derive an entirely new meaning from it. This phenomenon hit me over and over again as I read For a Little While, whose stories have more to give than can be gleaned in one reading."
    Jenny Shank, Dallas Morning News
  • "For a Little While showcases the better part of thirty years of work from one of America's best short story writers, and to see it collected between one set of covers is impressive. . . There isn't a dud among these pieces . . . Clear, lyrical writing . . . An excellent examination of the human heart."Chris La Tray, Missoula Independent
  • "Lyrical, ruminative, sometimes wry, and genuinely moving, this collection showcases Bass in his best form. Old classics, new favorites: There's much to savor here."—Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • "A generous volume . . . For a Little While mines a deep-and deeply American-vein of naturalism . . . Rick Bass's stories are models of concision and understatement . . . His writing is restrained and subtle . . . What makes prose like his so difficult to pull off is it doesn't offer the writer anywhere to hide: Like the characters he so frequently strands in the wilderness, Bass is left alone with only his instincts and skill to prevent him from succumbing to the elements . . . For a writer so intimately invested in the elemental-in the intricacies and combined comforts and terrors of earth, air, fire, and water-what Bass traffics in most frequently is transcendence, those moments in which humans find some fragile communion with something spiritual or otherworldly . . . In crystalline imagery and unadorned language, Bass delivers a powerful, affecting punch."Steven W. Beattie, Globe and Mail
  • "Rick Bass has been one of our finest short-fiction writers for decades. For A Little While will cause a wide public to take note. His name will be on notices alongside Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor."—William Kittredge
  • "This is a rich collection of stories by a major American writer esteemed for his originality as well as for his fine prose. One of the trademarks of the Rick Bass story is the fresh perception of places and people in their relationships to each other. Never facile, Bass is able to make us see and feel in unexpected ways and his stories call out to readers to stop and consider, to explore their feelings about what has risen up from the pages." —Annie Proulx
  • "My enthusiasm for Rick Bass's stories started with The Watch all those years ago. In the natural world, and even in the supernatural, the intersection of beauty and loss remains a hallmark of his exquisite fiction, and is on full display in For A Little While."—Amy Hempel
  • "For A Little While is nothing short of remarkable. In the powerful lyricism of his exquisitely wrought prose, Rick Bass conveys not only the ordinary thoughts and impulses of his characters but also those moments of pure sensation--convincing in every physical, mental, and emotional detail--when the intensity of life exists at a pitch almost beyond language. Grace has always been the great, elusive subject of his short fiction, and the extraordinary, transcendent stories collected here pursue it in myriad and seamless ways."
    Joyce Carol Oates
  • "Rick Bass's gift as a writer is that he takes you unforgettable places and shows you unforgettable sights, all real. The tone is always quiet and sharp-eyed; details are the only exclamation points. Each story in For A Little While is a complete hijacking of the reader's senses, accomplished with a raw and splendid subtlety."—Carl Hiaasen
  • "What a gift this bountiful book is--nearly five hundred pages of superb short stories and novellas. When it comes to the verities, Rick Bass rivals the very best we've ever had. His stories, often stunningly elemental, concern hardy and misbegotten folks, yet are suffused also with a quality of tenderness for all of whom he writes and the beautiful wild world they inhabit." —Daniel Woodrell
  • "These stories are adventurous, wise, and unexpectedly beautiful." —Lorrie Moore
  • "For a Little While is a perfect introduction to Bass's work, though it's best read in small doses. To gulp too many of these down at once would be overwhelming; they require savoring . . . To say his stories have a sense of place does not do their immersive power justice . . . The reader feels set down in the moment, highly attuned to everything Bass describes . . . His descriptions are vivid and visceral . . . [These] stories yield pure poetry and scenes of such indelible imagery they cannot be forgotten."Jill Wilson, Winnipeg Free Press
  • "A masterful storyteller."
    Reid Singer, Outside
  • "A benchmark collection of stories by one of the most capable practitioners of the form at work today . . . Long associated with both the Deep South and the mountainous West, Bass writes movingly of the land, weather, and place as well-even when the place isn't always attractive, such as the dark edges of little Western towns, 'strange seams of disintegrating roughness on the perimeters.' All of these elements come to the fore in the hundred-odd pages of new stories that close the book, all wind-swept plains and grim forests, mountain lions, badly loved girls, and wondrous resolutions . . . Essential reading for students of the modern American short story and some of the best work of a writer who is at the top of his game."Kirkus (Starred Review)
  • "Rick Bass readers will feel jubilant at the sight of this gathering of short stories spanning three decades, with eighteen from five previous collections and seven glorious new tales....Bass envisions life on a vast time scale, perceives the preciousness of the planet, and contemplates our ravenous exploitation of nature in our quest for light and warmth, security and sustenance. Reverence and compassion shape each masterfully formed tale in which Bass handles language itself as a gift as essential as water or blood....In such previous stories as 'Wild Horses,' a stunning examination of grief, and the exquisitely magical 'The Hermit's Story,' Bass combines precision, realism, and profound imagination. In his new stories, he attains a fresh intensity of emotional nuance as he portrays individuals weighing desire and duty, regret and gratitude. Bass writes tenderly of fathers and their breath-catching, if inept, love for their daughters; strong women and the men who cautiously orbit them; and those who long for spiritual richness in a world that values material wealth. A collection of enrapturing radiance and depth, a beacon and a hearth."
    Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
  • "A master craftsman . . . His spare, crystalline prose shows us the foibles of the human heart and the majesty of nature . . . Bass's inimitable art gives us hope . . . In his simple, direct storytelling, we touch a profound nerve of yearning and belonging. Bass intelligently and sensitively directs our attention to the inevitability of loss and, with it, a kind of grace . . . These stories teach us how to be humble. That is one detail of Bass's great artistry with the short story that we dare not overlook . . . In For a Little While, we see exactly how he uses the intimacy of human contact to make his creations soar."Arlice Davenport, The Wichita Eagle
  • "Rick Bass is something of a quiet miracle, possessing an astonishingly diverse and extensive bibliography . . . The stories curated for his new collection, For A Little While, give you an inkling of the breadth of his work . . . Most of these stories gave me tingles . . . If there's any justice, the joys and sublimities of For A Little While won't go away."—Sean Reichard, New West
  • "A skillful storyteller is back. In these pages, Bass illustrates why he is so revered by fellow authors and readers alike. From resonant descriptions of place to the revelation of a secret heart's desire, Bass's writing is always impeccably astute."—Neal Wyatt, Library Journal
  • Praise for Rick Bass:

    "One of this country's most intelligent and sensitive short story writers."
    New York Times Book Review
  • "Durable and authentic . . . A writer who can both frighten and amaze."—Jim Harrison
  • "Extravagant . . . Writing of this quality creates a stillness in the mind."
  • "One of the truly impressive short story writers of his generation."George Plimpton
  • "A master craftsman."Los Angeles Times
  • "Rick Bass is the rarest of writers, someone whose stories I'll read again and again."—Bob Shacochis
  • "What's exhilarating about Rick Bass's stories is that they show every hallmark of 'the natural'-that lucid, free-flowing, particularly American talent whose voice we can hear in Twain, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway."—Chicago Tribune
  • "What a voice! True and desperate, and full of longing."
    Joy Williams
  • "A seasoned author in full possession of his art and craft."—Denver Post
  • "Probably no American writer since Hemingway has written about man-in-nature more beautifully or powerfully than Rick Bass."—Dallas Morning News
  • "Bass's language glistens with the beauty of the landscape he evokes...His narration is pitch-perfect, and his writing so full of empathy for people and places that each story is a new revelation."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Bass's fiction takes us to the borders of civilization, where we glimpse an untamed world of myth and mystery."
    Entertainment Weekly
  • "Rick Bass is the real news, beyond one's hopes."
    Barry Hannah
  • "Exhilarating....His prose produces the ache of recognition and the sense the life is indeed worth living."
    David Guterson
  • "One of our best writers."
    Kent Haruf
  • "Bass's strong, moving, and impulsive stories make an important world that is all his own.... This is urgent and valuable work."
    Thomas McGuane
  • "Rick Bass' mastery of the modern American short story is on full display in his new collection. In this carefully curated collection of 18 previously published works and seven new stories, Bass treads over ground both familiar and alien, but manages to imbue each step with new insights through common landscapes that make the foreign familiar. Throughout his career as an environmentalist, essayist, and fiction writer, Bass has demonstrated his gift for revealing the world as he sees it, with more than a little optimism and hope for what the world can be if we look a little deeper. Spending a little while with this collection is a fulfillment of that gift."
    Erin H. Turner, Big Sky Journal
  • "While nature figures heavily in Bass' work, in this collection it always yields the foreground to people and their difficult, sometimes devastating lives."—San Francisco Chronicle

On Sale
Mar 1, 2016
Page Count
480 pages

Rick Bass

About the Author

Rick Bass, the author of thirty books, won the Story Prize for his collection For a Little While and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for his memoir Why I Came West. His work, which has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Esquire, and The Paris Review, among many other publications, and has been anthologized numerous times in The Best American Short Stories, has also won multiple O. Henry Awards and Pushcart Prizes, as well as NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. Bass lives in Montana’s Yaak Valley, where he is a founding board member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council.

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