West of Here by Jonathan Evison

West of Here by Jonathan Evison

Algonquin Books , Chapel Hill, 2011

Borrowed from my local library.

A grand, historic novel based in the imaginary town of Port Bonita (a stand-in for Port Angeles) on the Olympic Peninsula, West of Here follows many characters, some native, some non-native.  There are the colonizers and colonized, the industrialists, explorers and dreamers.  The novel moves between the late 1800’s , a period of exploration, expansion and the decimation of local native tribes, and the early 21st century,  where a once thriving economy based on logging and fish processing is at an ebb, poverty is rampant and the massive Elwha dam is about to be removed.

This is a place I am familiar with.   Evison does an admirable job portraying the land and creating the atmosphere of both time periods, but it often feels like too much, too many story-lines dropped like a stone, too many characters never fleshed out.  Maybe the author’s intention was to write a novel as dense and massive as the forests,  mountains and the waters that make up this part of Washington state but it never really came together for me, there were an awful lot of loose ends.

There are parts of this novel that I loved.  The descriptions of James Mather’s expedition in 1889, up the valley of the Elwha, in an attempt to reach the Quinault.  Certain characters,  Eva Lambert – budding journalist and pregnant free-thinker,  Dave Krigstadt – fish packing, pot smoking cryptozoologist and the Klallam doppelgängers – Thomas Jefferson King and Curtis.

And the land itself, the Elwha River, before being dammed and the surrounding, seemingly endless forests.  Trees so big it’s hard to imagine how men cut them down. The rugged forbidding faces of Mount Constance, Mount Deception and Mount Olympus.  Evison used many historic documents as references for his work and it shows.  All is all, I think that those interest in the history of the Pacific northwest will enjoy this novel.  And to add to the story the Elwha dam was removed last fall.  The salmon will return…


Filed under America, Historical Fiction, Thoughts

15 responses to “West of Here by Jonathan Evison

  1. Fascinating time-lapse video. I didn’t realize you could even take down a dam this way.

  2. One of my book clubs read this, but I wasn’t able to get the audio in time. By the time I DID get it, I’d heard enough negative to turn me off in a different direction. I’m sure it would make a difference if I were familiar with this part of the country, at least to make it worth reading, but I have so many piled up as it is…

    • Agreed, Sandy. I finished West of Here because there were partsof it I really enjoyed, but I felt it could have used a kindly but firm handed editor.

  3. I have gone back and forth on this book… One day I might read it, but not in a bit hurry…

  4. Ti

    I like the “idea” of this novel but for whatever reason, It’s never pulled me in enough to make me want to read it.

  5. It is always neat to read stories set in places you know but it isn’t always enough. Sorry this didn’t work for you.

  6. Pogue

    I loved it when they freed the Elwha. I wish they would do that to more rivers. This book has been on my list for a while. I love reading about my home, but there just seems to be somthing off puting about it and other than reading the blurbs I have not read much. One day I will break down and read it.

  7. cbjamess

    I have a push/pull reaction to this book ever time I see it. I really looks like something I’d enjoy, but then again maybe not, basically for all of the reasons you mention.

    I also think it looks just like the books James Michner used to write back in the 1970’s, grand epics that told the story of a particular place through several generations. I used to love those.

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