Since the dawn of recorded history, the Klallam Indians have thrived upon the bounty of the Elwha River. In 1889, on the eve of Washington's statehood, the Olympic Peninsula remains America's last frontier. But not for long. As northwestern expansion reaches its feverish crescendo, the clock is ticking...
I really enjoyed the Evison's writing in this book. He used a different voice when he wrote about the modern people than when he wrote about the first settlers, and all of them sounded authentic. Each story was well told and the characters were appealing. That said, I found it hard to draw a cohesive whole around all of the stories. I needed the parallels and lessons of the intertwined stories to be more explicit. As it was I felt that the stories were just well-drawn episodes that didn't follow from each other.
A good, not great book.
Once I stopped trying to keep straight all the different story lines and just allowed myself to inhabit the town of Port Bonita I really enjoyed the book. It was fascinating to follow the thread of how an action in 1889 could have a profound impact on the life of someone on 2006. While there are no fairy tale endings here, the author does an impressive job of wrapping together the many stories and creating a coherent ending. The book feels like one long adventure set in the last era of taming the wild west.
I listened to West of Here on audio, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. It must have been a challenging book to read with all the voices to portray and he does an admirable job. He always seemed to capture the spirit of the time and kept the story flowing. This was an excellent audiobook for passing many long days!
This is a quote from the last few pages of the book, but it's truly the essence of the book as well. Evison has referred to this book as his "little opus" with some humor--this is a chunky book. But it covers 126 years (1880-2006) and is told in 42 voices (I didn't count them--he did), so what else could he do? What is interesting is that the only true character is the place: Port Bonita and the Olympic Mountains and the river that runs through them. The people are the temporary and every changing scenery to the life of this place.
Don't get me wrong--there is plenty of "people plot" to the book--we learn the stories of everyone from daring explorers to whores to preachers to parole violators to high school jocks gone to seed. Everyone is trying to find their way in some manner--to a better life, a grand discovery, to fame, to love, to freedom, to a shiny future of some sort even if they don't know how to articulate that or even really know what it is that they are looking for. But whatever they are searching for, the spirit of the place infuses and inspires them--there is a bit of mysticism to the story both blatant and subtle.
The book is written with all the considerable passion Evison has about the real place that he has fictionalized for this book. That truly is what makes this book the memorable tome that it is. It is an opus indeed. Well done, maestro!
I had a college geology professor who often said that he thought the word dam should always be a four letter word and it appears that this is eminently true here in this novel. Two competing storylines set 100 years apart but in the same Washington State town, this is the tale of the Elwha River Dam's construction and 100 years on, about the drive to tear it down. The characters in the present day narrative are mainly descendants of the historical characters but all of them seem fairly cliched. There's the Native American who has visions; the early feminist, strident and brash; her idealistic lover turned capitalist; the lesbian park ranger environmentalist type; the ex-con awol from his parole officer; the off-kilter, possibly crazy, Bigfoot sighter; the forge-ahead-at-all-costs adventurer; the ironically moral prostitute; and the list goes on. The characters sometimes cross paths and other times are only fellow inhabitants of the muddy little pioneer town that simply grows into a more modern version of itself after the advent of the dam. Flipping back and forth in time just as the reader becomes accustomed to one time period, the juxtaposition of the other time period is jarring and breaks the flow of the novel.
With an enormous cast of characters and more than enough plotlines to accomodate all of them, the novel was definitely ambitious. Unfortunately the two disparate narratives never came together satisfactorily for me. Ultimately I was just relieved to be finished. The overwhelming hype surrounding the book didn't help but mainly by the end, I was too battered by the effort needed to get through the book to care much about it or any of the issues it should have raised. Others have found this to be a huge and wonderfully enveloping epic. I did not but may it be that way for you if you crack it open.
West of Here is a broad, engrossing, heartening tale of the human spirit. It tells the stories of many characters, all very different from one another, and how their lives are intrinsically connected to the town of Port Bonita. I grew to care about all the characters as they came alive for me in the very palatable setting of Washington state. The landscape, the wilderness, the town, all became vibrant characters in the book by their own rights and the things that held this whole book together and made it great.
Evison has populated both eras with wonderfully developed characters. In the 1880’s, James Mather is an adventurer seeking to conquer the rest of the Washington Territory on the eve of its statehood. Ethan Thornburgh is a businessman determined to harness the power of the Elwha River by building a dam to bring electricity, people, and prestige to Port Bonita. The Klallam Indians have seen their traditions vanish and are struggling to co-exist with the settlers. In 2006 the descendants of these settlers are still contending with the consequences of decisions made by their forefathers. As Port Bonita makes plans to tear down the dam, the town must begin to reinvent itself. It is the perfect time for some of its residents to do the same.
I have to admit that it took a few chapters to draw me into this story. Looking back, I have no idea why because once I was in, I loved it. There is a great sense of place in this novel; I was transported back more than 100 years by Evison’s rich detail of the culture and geography of the Northern Pacific. The characters are larger than life while remaining true to life. My personal favorite is Dave Kringstadt who, in 2006, is employed by the High Tide salmon processing plant. Struggling with garnering respect or even consideration from those around him, Krig may be the one to finally break free of his family’s legacy of indifference from others.
This book is one that affirms my love for reading, my belief that reading can provide us with so much more understanding, entertainment, and can be the key that unlocks countless memories and visions of life than any passive entertainment (ie tv, internet, radio)ever could. In short, this book is an example of why I love to read and why I will continue to tote armfuls of books to and from the libraries every week.
The author tells us a good story as opposed to writing a novel. There is a difference. The story flowed smoothly between different historic eras, connecting ideals and relatives a hundred years apart, yet with similar life issues and passions. The subjects and issues are not spectacular, as many books seem to be, but they are still great adventure, suspense and common enough to all of us that I came away learning something about myself and assistance in putting my own life and struggles in perspective.
There is passion, vision, love, trouble and trials and even a strong supernatural element in the story, but what makes this book a victory is that it is all presented in a way that I could easily identify with the heros, villians, and bystanders without having to stretch my much.
The descriptions of land and seasons were so familiar and absorbable, the people were unique, special, but very believable, and the storylines connected seamlessly. As I said, the author did not need to resort to presenting a spectacular story in order to draw me back continuously until I finished the book. He wrote of identifiable people, places, and circumstances in an interesting, exciting, and edifing way. This guy wrote a masterful story in a way that drew me in, not as an outsider, but as one who belongs in BOTH generations.
When I read a book like this, I will research what else the author has written, what recommendations Amazon and other sites have for those who enjoyed this work, and I will do this by the middle of the book at latest.
I enjoyed this very much, will certainly recommend it to those that are marginal readers who need a good reason to become obsessive readers, and I may very well pick it up in a few years and enjoy it all over again.
What stands out about this novel is that—while it is certainly making a splash, and deservedly so—it does not stand out or call undue attention to itself. It does not show off linguistically with archaic words like “granitic” or “discalced” or “isocline.” It does not have a boy wizard or an autistic child or a serial killer or a dog as a protagonist or narrator.
What West of Here does have is a hell of a story, a sweeping, epic tale of a community and the wilderness around it, both at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. And characters. Does it have characters. These are people who are as unique, and odd, and funny, and irritating, and fascinating as the people in your neighborhood. In this sense, it is old-fashioned: characters plot = story. No more. No less.
And at the end of this novel, I was sad to say goodbye to all of these compelling, maddening, glorious people: Krig, Mather, Ethan, Eva, Hillary, Franklin, Timmon, Curtis, Adam, Rita, Thomas, et cetera. Their trials, failures, and victories seemed to become my own as I read on. And I didn’t want them to end.
In Huckleberry Finn, Huck turns his back on civilization and lights out for the territory. West of Here embodies a similar hearkening for something better, something beyond, something just west of here. In this, it is a quintessentially American novel, and a very fine one indeed.