Waiting for the tide

  • The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch

    247 pages, softcover, $13.95. Bloomsbury, 2006
  In The Highest Tide, Jim Lynch’s debut novel, 13-year-old Miles O’Malley — Squid Boy to his friends — discovers freaks of marine biology while beach-combing near his home. He also encounters sex, death, divorce, and the bizarre world of media stardom along the way.

A boy genius who’s abnormally short for his age, Miles gets the world’s attention when he discovers a still-living giant squid washed up on the shores of Skookumchuck Bay near Olympia, Wash. This rare find is followed by an out-of-its-depths ragfish, an oversize sea star, and other grotesque and spectacular creatures. Miles remarks to one pestering reporter, "Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something," an offhand comment he instantly regrets. "Dip into the mystical, especially if you appear to be an unsullied, clearheaded child, and they want to write a song about you."

But Squid Boy is more than just the Pacific Northwest’s Holden Caufield. His wise cynicism — "Grown-ups are always more fascinated by what you might become than what you are" — pales next to his sweet solicitousness: He nurses an old neighbor with Parkinson’s disease, and tends his bipolar former babysitter.

In the end, Miles’ discoveries extend far beyond the detritus of the sea. "Those shells, as unique and timeless as bones, helped me realize that we all die young, that in the life of the earth, we are houseflies, here for one flash of light."