Skip to main content

The Highest Tide


The Highest Tide

Just as a mere seashell can evoke the sound of waves crashing at sea, a similar sensory experience emanates from the pages of Jim Lynch's debut novel, THE HIGHEST TIDE, which instantly transports us beneath the waters of a marine world teeming with infinite life and exquisite possibility. Not since Rachel Carson's famed 1951 bestseller, THE SEA AROUND US, has a book so powerfully and poetically conveyed the sea's wonders --- from the lowliest floating plankton to the elusive giant squid --- with such a ferocious intensity and tenderness.

Set on the shores of Puget Sound during one pivotal summer, we see the mysteries of the bay unfold through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley --- a vertically-challenged, Rachel Carson-quoting insomniac who's as naïve on the subject of love as he is knowledgeable about the seascape around him. While he may be hopeless in matters of the heart, Miles is wise beyond his years in other ways and sees things in the natural world that most people don't take the time to notice. Consequently, he's the first to stumble upon a thirty-seven-foot beached giant squid and witness its dying breaths in the waning hours before daybreak.

The squid's discovery --- a shocking occurrence given that the species are mysterious deep-sea dwellers rarely seen alive by humans --- galvanizes the community into a renewed interest in their surroundings. At the center of their frenzied excitement is the shy and unassuming Miles, who finds himself thrust into the media spotlight after offhandedly remarking that "Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something." The local citizenry, mesmerized by his impressive knowledge and deep reverence for marine life, become convinced that he's a pint-sized messiah who receives messages from the sea in the form of his unusual discoveries and observations.

Buoyed by this attention, Miles begins to gain the confidence to search out his place in the universe, a quest further complicated by his parent's disintegrating marriage and his burden of being the receptacle for their own extinguished dreams. The unusual friendships that have sustained him throughout his life also begin to place new demands on him as their cracks and limitations come to the surface.

His former babysitter Angie, a troubled young woman whom he harbors an intense crush on, struggles to find meaning in life, which he tries naively and valiantly to provide. Meanwhile, his best friend Florence, an elderly housebound psychic, suffers from a degenerative disease and asks him to keep her deteriorating condition secret so she can avoid the nursing home. Faced with these mounting pressures, Miles discovers that navigating the calm waters of Puget Sound is a lot easier than navigating the rocky terrain of young adulthood.

When cataclysmic events in both the natural and human world collide on the bay and bring to life one of Florence's prophecies, Miles realizes that even the seeming constancy of the natural world around him is a mirage. To continue to live alongside it, he must evolve as well by leaving the shallows of his childhood behind and surrendering to the depths of an uncharted future.

Roiling beneath the seas that drive the narrative of this tender and wise coming-of-age story exists an elegant metaphor for the human experience. The ebb and flow of the bay's tides echo the perpetual cycle of life from birth to death and the transformations that take place along the way, paying fitting evolutionary homage to the earliest cellular life forms that bubbled forth from the ocean's miasmic depths. The author also draws an apt comparison between the fragility and interdependence of both the human world and the marine environment --- each needs the other to survive, just as each relies on the relationships within their own respective aboveground and underwater worlds for sustenance.

By making the sea a living, breathing protagonist in its own right, THE HIGHEST TIDE gives us a new pair of eyes with which to view the teeming waters comprising 70% of our planet, ensuring that we'll never look at the oceans --- or our own place within them --- the same way again.

Reviewed by Joni Rendon on April 4, 2006

The Highest Tide
by Jim Lynch

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1582346291
  • ISBN-13: 9781582346298