Jonathan Evison’s “West of Here” is a gritty, full bodied epic set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington.
The beginning pulls the reader in with beautiful, assured narration and indelible characters who embody the spirit of the pioneers who ventured west in search of opportunity. These are men who set out to move the course of a river, who imagined selling ice gathered at mountain tops, who envisaged electric stairs, and who dreamed they could save the culture of a people. These are women who believed their voices and actions were valuable; for one woman that meant to send her child away to a better life, for another, to break out of a destructive pattern, and for another, to attempt to stop big-money progress with the power of the written word.
A few chapters in, Evison introduces a whole new set of characters as he travels forward in time to the lives of the descendants of the men and women who settled Port Bonita. The transition comes as a surprise but as the reader comes to know these new characters he won’t mind being ripped from the earlier group. Connecting the two time periods are the Elwha river, the men who tried to tame it and their descendants, the Native American settlement of Jamestown, and an odd shaman-like out-of-body experience in which the Native American boy, Thomas, switches places with a modern day Khallam Indian, Curtis.
The themes are familiar: man versus nature, Native American wisdom versus progress, the tangible versus the mysterious, but Evison’s quality of writing and depth of character take these themes to an enviably high level. By the end, the reader realizes the author has threaded these two disparate sets of characters seamlessly to offer a rich, multi-layered novel that satisfies.
*Review first published in the March 20th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines, NC