Ninety miles north of Seattle on the Washington coast lies Bellingham Bay, where a rough settlement founded in the 1850s would become the town of Whatcom. Here, the Lummi and Nooksack Indian people fish and farm, hermits pay their debts in sockeye salmon, and miners track gold-bearing streams.Here, too, is the intimate, murderous tale of three men. Clare Fishburn believes that greatness lies in store for him. John Ireland Sharp, an educated orphan, abandons hope when he sees socialists expel the Chinese workers from the region. Beal Obenchain, who lives in a cedar stump, threatens Clare Fishburn's life. A killer lashes a Chinese worker to a wharf piling at low tide. Settlers pour in to catch the boom the railroads bring. People give birth, drown, burn, inherit rich legacies, and commit expensive larcenies. All this takes place a hundred years ago, when these vital, ruddy men and women were "the living."
First, I love the atmospherics in the book. Her description of Western Washington in the 1850's, when the book begins are right on, and give a great period flavor. The dark, dripping forest, the damp days, make the setting feel almost primeval.
Unfortunately, I'm less fond of the plot--particularly at the end of the book, when it sort of degenerates into a big whodunit. Who cares.
I liked this book but you have to take the good with the bad.
On the downside, the book is at time gruesome and depressing - life was hard for these people, and Dillard doesn't spare us any of the grief or gore. Sometimes I didn't really understand the characters and their feelings. The plot line doesn't really follow a conflict-resolution trajectory: it is just a continuing saga of a few generations of Puget Sound's first settlers, and as such the plot wasn't very satisfying. Closer to real life, perhaps, but there was never a sense of resolution. Dillard's writing is very rewarding.