OneFlewWest, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by OneFlewWest)
West of Here is an entertaining, epic read, spanning one hundred years on the Olympic Peninsula. Beautifully written and full of a vivid sense of place, compelling characters, and a little bit of magic.
Roger Long, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Roger Long)
I read a lot of books, probably over 200 books a year, and this is the best book I read in 2011. Beautifully written, It tells the story of the Northwest in microcosm.
rogerb, March 28, 2011 (view all comments by rogerb)
This is possibly the best novel to come out of the Northwest since Sometimes a Great Notion. Evison obviously did a great deal of historical research, and large parts of the novel are set in the 1890s, but somehow, this does not read like a historical novel. It has a very contemporary feel to it.
The novel follows the original inhabitants of the lower Elwha, the Siwash and Jamestown Klallam, and the founders of the fictional town of Port Bonita in the 1890s in the first part of the book. The book then begins shifting view points between the 1890s and 2006, tying the lives of the founding generation to their descendants in the modern era.
The story centers first around the construction of the lower dam on the Elwha in the 1890s, and in the contemporary sections, on its imminent destruction. The dam was constructed without any fish passage capability and caused the extinction of the greatest runs of salmon and steelhead on the Olympic peninsula.
This novel's rendering of the Olympic Peninsula is evocative for those familiar with the area. However, the significance of the dam' construction and destruction may be lost on those who haven't experienced the salmon and logging conflicts of the contemporary Pacific Northwest.
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Denise Morland, March 24, 2011 (view all comments by Denise Morland)
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!
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill -
Through vividly realized characters scattered across a century’s worth of compelling narrative, West of Here is a book that impeccably captures the spirit of the Pacific Northwest as a place where identities are discovered and destinies are forged.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"A century after the late-19th-century settlers of Olympic Peninsula to the west of Seattle set out to build a dam, their descendants want to demolish it to bring back fish runs, providing one of the many plots in this satisfyingly meaty work from Evison (All about Lulu). The scenes of the early settlers track an expedition into the Olympic wilderness and the evolving relations between settlers and the Klallam tribe, provide insights into early feminism, and outline an entrepreneur's dream to build the all-important dam. By comparison, the contemporary stories are chock-full of modern woe and malaise, including a Bigfoot watcher and seafood plant worker who wishes to relive his glory days as a high school basketball star; an ex-convict who sets out into the wilderness to live off the land; and an environmental scientist who is hit with an unexpected development. 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. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review A Day"
by Robert M. Detman, Rain Taxi,
"Jonathan Evison, author of the 2009 Washington State Book Award-winning All About Lulu, returns with West of Here, a fantastic 482-page doorstop of a novel chronicling the clashing cultures of a peripatetic group of immigrant settlers and Klallam Indians in the fictional town of Port Bonita, in the Olympic Peninsula. Bearing the hallmarks of an epic yarn, the novel boasts frontier exploits, Native American mysticism, Bigfoot, and an environmental cause wound into its myriad character stories." (Read the entire Rain Taxi review)
by Library Journal (starred review),
"Fans of Jess Walter and Jim Lynch will be thrilled to find another author whose love for the Pacific Northwest and its people shines through with humor and clarity."
by James P. Othmer, author of The Futurist,
"A daring, gorgeously structured, and deeply satisfying expedition of a novel. West of Here deftly connects lives and centuries, pipe dreams and fierce realities, the sensibilities of the modern with the storytelling punch of the classic. Every sentence, character, and hard-won patch of Pacific Northwestern earth shimmers with kinetic truth."
by Jim Lynch, author of Border Songs,
"Jonathan Evison writes with a big playful heart. West of Here is a creative bonanza of a novel about the dreamers who settled this lush corner of the country and the people who wake up here today. Its characters and story lines are separated by more than a century yet bound by geography, a dam, and a shared humanity that spills across these pages."
by David Liss, author of The Whiskey Rebels,
"Intelligent, insightful, poignant, funny, endlessly entertaining, and perpetually thought-provoking, West of Here proves that Jonathan Evison is a major new voice in American fiction."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Well-plotted, literate....Evison moves his narrative backward and forward through time, taking a leisurely approach to telling a story that is seldom dramatic, but that Westerners will recognize as their own."
by Ron Currie Jr., author of Everything Matters!,
"'Epic' is yet another one of those words that's been stripped of its meaning from overuse, but no other word can properly describe this novel. I'm in awe. You will be, too."
At the foot of the Elwha River, the muddy outpost of Port Bonita is about to boom, fueled by a ragtag band of dizzyingly disparate men and women unified only in their visions of a more prosperous future. A failed accountant by the name of Ethan Thornburgh has just arrived in Port Bonita to reclaim the woman he loves and start a family. Ethan's obsession with a brighter future impels the damming of the mighty Elwha to harness its power and put Port Bonita on the map.
More than a century later, his great-great grandson, a middle manager at a failing fish- packing plant, is destined to oversee the undoing of that vision, as the great Thornburgh dam is marked for demolition, having blocked the very lifeline that could have sustained the town. West of Here is a grand and playful odyssey, a multilayered saga of destiny and greed, adventure and passion, that chronicles the life of one small town, turning America's history into myth, and myth into a nation's shared experience.
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