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West of Here

Posted on

West of Here

West of Here

Current Status:
In Season
Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books

We gave it a B+

The state of Washington has recently been consigned to being the drizzly, sun-deprived backdrop to dreary, sex-deprived vampiric love affairs, but this expansive, century-spanning novel lends the Pacific Northwest a little more literary glory. West of Here is the kind of work that begs to be called sweeping, with its large cast of characters encompassing multiple eras, sturdy American themes of community and nature, and a style that could be called cinematic — specifically, Altmanesque, a combination of McCabe & Mrs. Miller‘s frontier realism and Nashville‘s interconnected vignettes.

The vast majority of the story takes place in either 1890 or 2006, as Evison adroitly skips back and forth between the two years, subtly painting a landscape of long-term cause and effect. The town of Port Bonita begins slathered with an abundance of natural resources and lofty Western-expansion idealism. One hundred and sixteen years later, it is depleted of both, the river dammed, the salmon overfished, and a Walmart plunked down right in the middle of the town almost as a mockery of its former self-sufficiency. Port Bonita’s modern-day denizens cling as tightly to the imagined glory of the past as their forebears did to the promise of the future.

Surnames resurface here and there, actions then wreak circuitous havoc now, but Evison knows not to step too heavily on his already well-trod “we’re all connected” thematic terrain. Characters occasionally blur together, and some of the more interesting ones don’t get the attention they warrant, as the large scope hinders any close-ups. Still, if you take a step back, the big picture is pretty impressive. B+