Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011
: Jonathan Evison opens his electrifying epic, West of Here
, at the Elwha River dam, where over a hundred years since settlers of the fictional town of Port Bonita tamed the river, their descendants gather in anticipation of the dam's blasting, and a new era of restoration. Across the next five hundred pages, Evison's story moves between 2006 and the town's earliest days at the close of the 19th century, overlaying stories of the people who passed through or dug in at Port Bonita, which swelled from settlement to town on the ragged shoreline of Washington State's Strait of Juan de Fuca. The past is populated by intrepid folk--an exploration party penetrating the Olympic Mountain range in the depths of winter, Klallam natives sickened by homeland eviction and whiskey, a young feminist at odds with motherhood, a prostitute doing covert battle with her whorehouse's owner, and an idealistic entrepreneur, blasting the river canyon into submission. In 2006, we meet their softer progeny--an ex-con who flees into the mountains with a stash of Snickers, the lonely parole officer determined to find him, a fish processing plant worker with a Bigfoot fixation, a native woman who rethinks her whole life when her son has a psychic break, and more memorable characters haunted by the past, by their unlived lives, by themselves. Though its themes are weighty, West of Here
never bogs down--irreverent humor, lustrous prose, and unexpected moments animate a tale as vast as the land it inhabits. --Mari Malcolm
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A century after the late–19th-century settlers of Olympic Peninsula to the west of Seattle set out to build a dam, their descendants want to demolish it to bring back fish runs, providing one of the many plots in this satisfyingly meaty work from Evison (All About Lulu). The scenes of the early settlers track an expedition into the Olympic wilderness and the evolving relations between settlers and the Klallam tribe, provide insights into early feminism, and outline an entrepreneur's dream to build the all-important dam. By comparison, the contemporary stories are chock-full of modern woe and malaise, including a Bigfoot watcher and seafood plant worker who wishes to relive his glory days as a high school basketball star; an ex-convict who sets out into the wilderness to live off the land; and an environmental scientist who is hit with an unexpected development. Evison does a terrific job at creating a sense of place as he skips back and forth across the century, cutting between short chapters to sustain a propulsive momentum while juggling a sprawling network of plots and a massive cast of characters real enough to walk off the page. A big novel about the discovery and rediscovery of nature, starting over, and the sometimes piercing reverberations of history, this is a damn fine book. (Feb.)
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