‘The Hermit’s Story’ by Rick Bass

This story approaches the extremities and possibilities of both the singular tale and the dreamscape, and locates them in a remote valley in the American West before centering that valley and reaching out farther and farther into an ephemeral, snowy, icy space I won’t spoil by explaining here.

Bass is a fine writer, but I walk around and in this one story as a thing apart from all his work—and most other short stories. There are so many things here you could imagine someone going on about as “wrong”: the title, the overelaborate and obviously reverse-engineered narration, the disarray of the whole story around its one central story-within-a-story, a few asides that add nothing concrete and never come back round.

I’ve taught this for quite some time and (more than anything I’ve taught) students remember it and later bring it up on their own. A gone-a-decade student recently informed me she keeps my course packet for her annual reread of ‘The Hermit’s Story’.

First published in The Paris Review, Summer 1998. Collected in The Hermit’s Story, Houghton Mifflin, 2002