Katharine Haake's The Height and Depth of Everything is a book of journeys in which dislocated women make unsettling forays into the new West where, unexpectedly, some violent expression of nature erupts into their lives, forcing them to readjust their vision of the world within the context of its still very powerful natural aspect. Like the places they live - Washington state in the aftermath of the eruption of Mount St. Helens; the rubble-strewn epicenter of Southern California after a recent earthquake; the flooded streets of a desert town in Utah - the characters in this collection are all "picking up the pieces" of lives shaken not only by natural but by spiritual disaster. In the precariousness of their lives, these characters find redemption by submitting to the indeterminacy of human life. The masterful opening story, "Arrow Math," comprises the first section of the book, Cartography, and sets the terms around which the rest of the book will revolve: how do people, places, and the language they use in those places create what we call geography?
The five stories in Grace, the book's second section, are all about women in strange, wild landscapes, trying to find their places in the world. In "Laying on of Hands," 41-year-old Nora has left her daughter and infant grandson to move to Wyoming without any plan except to "drive west, quit booze." In "All This Land," Janet has dropped out of college and moved to Montana, lured by her childhood fascination with Indian-abducted colonial girls. The final section, The Backbone of the World, features "This Is Geology to Us," one of many examples in the collection of the power of story: Melanie decides to walk across Death Valley because of a story she's read in the newspaper. There are no set rules in the world Haake shows us, a world where deserts flood, husbands disappear, crippled women are suddenly able to work the gas pedal on a Jeep. Anything can happen, she seems to be saying, and you don't have to try to figure out why. Sometimes things just burn, or break apart, or wash away.