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…