West of here : a novel

by Jonathan Evison

Hardcover, 2011





Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011.


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...

Media reviews

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
It took me a bit to get into the full swing of this book, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. There is a wide, expansive set of wildly imperfect characters, and their lives are chronicled between basically two eras, pre-statehood/pioneer 1890 Washington State and modern-era 2006. Although the two eras are connected by genealogy, the generations in between are not covered. So it was a rather interesting approach to time and place. The writing is very simple and so are the stories of the people, both the white settlers and the Klallam Indians. There is much talk about what makes humans tick, what is failure, success, happiness, etc. It reads very much like a soap opera. One problem with this novel though is that the reader never really gets a deep feeling for any one character, his/her motives, desires or drive, because there are SO many, each chapter flashes either forward or back, or to another character. I'm sure that was intentional as this is a tapestry of a place (and how it has changed between the eras) - sort of like an impressionist painting. The State of Washington is most definitely the most looming character of all. Anyway, I do recommend this book. I do feel it was a bit over-rated and hyped, but still, I flew through it.… (more)
LibraryThing member spounds
I have been anticipating West of Here for quite some time having heard of it several months before it was released and was really looking forward to reading it. The novel tells the multi-generational story of Port Bonita, Washington, chronicling her residents in early 2007 and their ancestors of 1890. The earlier stories relate the exploits of those who came to tame the wilderness and the clash between whites and native; the later stories follow those who live in the modern, replete with malls and fast food restaurants; the older generation trying to conquer the vast new land to which they have removed, and the the later generation trying to find meaning in a life where everything has been tamed for them.
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.
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LibraryThing member frisbeesage
West of Here is a huge, sweeping novel covering so much time and so many different stories that it is impossible not to get swept up in the town of Port Bonita. The story begins in 1889 when Port Bonita is a small, struggling outpost of settlers and indians. Ethan Thornburgh arrives having followed his runaway sweetheart and decides that a dam, blocking up the mighty Elwha for electricity and modern conveniences, will put Port Bonita, and himself, on the map. Contrasting that is present day where the town is now realizing the extent of environmental damage done by the giant dam. Craving a fresh start the town contemplates tearing it down. Woven throughout these main threads are the stories of prostitutes, paroled criminals, three different mothers trying to do the best for their very different children, loners, explorers, and politicians. Washington's rugged and magnificent Olympic Penninsula forms the dramatic backdrop for all these stories.

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!
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LibraryThing member JackieBlem
"Port Bonita is not a place, but a spirit, an essence, a pulse; a future still unfolding.... Onward! There is a future, and it begins right now."

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!
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LibraryThing member KimLarae
Slow to start, I loved it by the end. Characters all extremely rich, great portrait of the northwest coast
LibraryThing member Tasker
This was a nice, pleasant read - however, a week later key characters' names can't be remembered so his book, at least to me, was entertaining but wouldn't make my second-read pile. Having spent almost a year in Washington and Oregon in my other life, I enjoyed revisting the locale by found myself drawn to the 2006 portion of the book versus the 1890 period.… (more)
LibraryThing member marciathing
I enjoyed shifting between 1890 and 2006, and Evison handled both settings very well. Ultimately he handled several characters and story lines well. I am left wondering "what about...." but then fiction often does leave some loose ends.
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
This is a big book. It's not just long, it has very big, discussable ideas underpinning the text: environmental impact, Native Rights, the West as a place for reinvention, etc. It's a saga. It's also a big deal, generating a lot of buzz in the industry. And like so many other books in similar positions, it fell short for me.

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.
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LibraryThing member allisonmclean
I read this book during a very busy time in my life and this book is long so it took me a really long time to get through it. But it was almost perfect for that situation because the chapters were so short and independent I could easily pick it up and read a little here and there. It worked really well for that.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member suballa
In his newest novel, West of Here, Jonathan Evison blends past and present to create a mythical story filled with love, adventure and family dysfunction. Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington, the novel alternates between the late 1880’s when the town is striving to become a destination in the west to rival Seattle, and 2006, as Port Bonita readies itself to shed its past and move on to an uncertain future.
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.
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LibraryThing member Hohriverwader
A book of my area that I throughly enjoyed. A good mixture of histroy, the present and subplots. Having explored the area and taken boat around the lake it is very good and correct descriptive of our area. The Elwha Dam is getting closer to the actually demolation of this time period sturcture in real time. For me I enjoyed it. There have been other books that I have read that were not as throughly researched which annoys most Pacific Northwesterns or may just be me. One, black-tail deer do not run in "herds", a male is a buck and female a doe, an off spring a fawn. Elk run in herds and male is called a bull and female a cow and offspring calves. And yes we do have a lot of rain and cloudy days. But we are mostly green in the Pacific Northwest.… (more)
LibraryThing member exfed
This book takes place in two time periods, all taking place on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We have the 100-year old story of pioneers and explorers, and then the contemporary story of their descendants living in the same region. While lots of characters are introduced to the reader, they are interesting, quirky, realistic and flawed people. The main story line is torn from today's headlines - the removal of a century old dam to restore a salmon fishery. We see how the area is explored and exploited, at the same time we see how the modern day descendants struggle with a bad economy and changed social values. A great read.… (more)
LibraryThing member poetontheone
Evison's sophomore novel is an ambitious historical epic that, through the exploration of one small town in the Pacific Northwest, touches on a myriad of social and environmental issues while more pointedly being a novel that insists on place as protagonist. A large cast of characters, each remarkably possessing enough emotional complexity and dimension to never be classified as flat, serves to create a fluid patchwork of personal histories that demonstrate the impact of community and lineage. By fictionalizing the history of a place, Evison presents a parascopic view of this history rich with characters and stories that are resonant, relatable, and complex. With great humor and obvious craft behind grand design, he cements himself here as one of the premiere storytellers of the contemporary but archetypal American landscape, interior and otherwise.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
Shifting characters and time periods, Evison's novel explores the character of a part of the Olympic Peninsula, or maybe the part stands for the whole, but I especially enjoyed this book because of my awareness of the saga of the Elwha dams, one of which is central to the novel.
LibraryThing member pife43
Just finished this book. I suppose I might be considered a picky reader, but life is short and I will never have the time to read books that I should or want to read, so I spend alot of time reading a few chapters and driving books back to the library, unread. Not so with this one.
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.
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LibraryThing member CMiller600
An excellent read. I loved it.
LibraryThing member ChristopherSwann
West of Here sticks with you for a while. That might not seem odd, given the size of the novel (nearly 500 pages). But it doesn't read like a big novel, not in the sense that you have to wade through several hundred pages. It certainly feels like a big novel, and how could it not? Two timelines a century apart, multiple characters, multiple plots and subplots including a wilderness expedition, building (and later un-building) a dam, a parole officer searching for his newest parolee, doomed romances, troubled parenting, madness, and Bigfoot.

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.
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Enjoyed. Book about settling of Olympic Penninsula in Washington state, where I live. Goes back and forth between stories of settlement in the 1880s and 90s and stories in current period. Many of the characters in the story of today are descendants of folks in the original story. Enjoyed this quite a bit. The place where the story takes place is located among real places but itself is creation. Would recommend. (Audiobook.)… (more)
LibraryThing member rocketjk
Jonathan Evison has accomplished a very impressive feat of narrative and imagination with West of Here, set in Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. The novel brings us an impressive array of well-drawn characters and plot lines, moving gracefully back and forth in time from the 1890s, when the area was first being settled and explored by Whites (while natives were trying to keep hold of their culture and, to some extent at least, their land), to 2006, when the inhabited part of the area has been turned mostly in a suburban blight of fast-food joints and small, frustrated lives. The characters, for the most part, are well drawn and sympathetic, even the cast of 21st century people who's lives are marked by roadblocks and trap doors, often of their own making. The 19th century characters, on the other hand, are often somewhat larger than life. We willingly follow this cast of characters, natives as well as whites, through several months of their lives in both time periods. For the most part, we root for their success and/or redemption. The 1890s bring us more adventurous, heroic deeds, but both time periods, in the end, become engrossing as we grow to know the characters. And if the connections drawn between the characters of the two eras sometimes seem a bit forced, I was mostly willing to forgive what in the end seemed quite a minor flaw. The descriptions of nature in both eras are quite good, indeed. All in all, I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member likos77
Nachdenklicher Roadtrip mit einem Todkranken und einem vom Schicksal gezeichneten Vater, der beide Kinder bei einem Unfall verlor. Mal leicht, mach gefühlvoll, eine gute Mischung aus vielen Emotionen.


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