West of Here

West of Here

A Novel

Book - 2011
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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.
Publisher: Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011.
ISBN: 9781565129528
1565129520
Characteristics: 486 p. :,maps ;,24 cm.

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whatcomhillwalker
Dec 05, 2019

I wish I had read the same book as some of the other reviewers on this site. It sounds really interesting. Unfortunately the book I read was too convoluted for me to pull it together into an enjoyable whole. The storyline jumps from the past to the present and from one set of characters to another set without any kind of continuity for me.
There were parts I really enjoyed and I was immersed by the plot line but just as that happened it would switch to another plot altogether. Seems like the two stories were written separately and then cut and pasted together to increase the interest. But, it did not work for me.

m
maiki69
Nov 18, 2019

In 2003 when G. Dubya announced in his State of the Union address that nation building was to be the centerpiece of foreign policy from here out, Americans, for the most part, accepted it without question. Most asked themselves what took him so long. It was nothing new, this idea. Nation building is part of the American psyche, having been engaged in it for over two hundred years, carving our own nation out of a frontier on a policy that promoted the land grab as a divine right. Never mind that North America was pocked with tribal nations who were here first. Or that Spain claimed most of the southwest and California. If there was gold in them hills, resources to be plundered, America was entitled to them. We were building a nation.

"An industrialist, a shaman and an explorer walk into a bar . . ." Sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but what Jonathan Evison does with those characters is no laughing matter. Evison has a gift when it comes to storytelling. He bends and molds his characters 'til they jump right off the pages and stick to you like the mud and grit of the frontier his story is set in. He paints with masterful strokes in WEST OF HERE (Workman Publishing, $15.95) the history of Port Bonita, a fictional settlement based on the very real history of Port Angeles, Washington.

Set on the eve of statehood, Port Bonita is a dirty backwater teeming with possibility. Hardly more than a collection of shacks, the settlement has all the politics of a modern city. It's got impoverished Indians lingering at Hollywood Beach, existing in limbo between their old ways and the Great White Father's new. As a nation, the Indians are divided between the "savages" and a Christianized enclave led by Lord Jim who purchased their own land, only to find that by this act of self-determination, forfeited their right to federal recognition. There are idealists in Port Bonita too, a whole boatload of them living communally in an artists colony called the Commonwealth, an unlikely springboard for commercial industry, yet that is precisely where the town's first industrialist launches from.

Spurned by the woman he loves, Ethan Thornburgh follows her west to the Colony, where there's a lot of planning, painting and dreaming going on. Thornburgh fancies himself an idea man, always on the lookout for the big opportunity that will make his name. A bit of an idealist himself, he pursues his dream of bringing the electric light to Port Bonita by damming the Elwha River. The idealist in him sees in the project the promise of local jobs and commerce. For a moment he's a hero. Once reality sets in - the need for financing from outside interests - the project morphs into one controlled and staffed by Midwest corporate interests, and just as the Indians were failed by America's expansion west, Port Bonita is failed by corporate America's. The wealth Thornburgh promised Port Bonita is summarily siphoned off to line the pockets of executives in Chicago.

With a cast of thousands, it's difficult to pinpoint precisely whose story WEST OF HERE is. It's the story of clashing cultures. It's also the story of the last great expedition in the lower forty-eight. Part MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, part INTO THIN AIR and part HERE COME THE BRIDES, it's also a story about the land, and in that respect WEST OF HERE belongs to the mountains and rivers and forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

In the end, WEST OF HERE is a ghost story. The modern-day residents of Port Bonita are depicted as weaving about life's challenges as if in a dream. Their ghosts are centuries old, created long before the story begins. They walk the land, as they are part of the land. The challenge for each Port Bonitian is how to rid themselves of such a haunting, or if it's even possible. As Lord Jim eloquently put it on the eve of his death in October 1890: "We are born haunted . . . We are haunted by otherness, by the path not taken, by the life unlived. "

Harrowing business, nation building.

n
NedSu
Jun 15, 2019

This is a good read. I think the author started out to write the great (NW) American novel, but it turned out to be too much of a stretch. It ranks below such great works as Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion, Duncan's "The Brothers K", and even Stein's "A Sudden Light", but it still catches the essence of what makes a NW centric novel- how nature intertwines with family in a multigenerational way. In this case, nature is The Elwha River and Dam, and it bounces between 1889-90 and 2006, from the beginnings of making the dam to the demise/dismantling of the same.

I read "Lawn Boy" first and could see how Evison has grown as a writer. Going back to his earlier work was interesting because while the story was good, the 2006 parts of the story were more lively and honest in describing the lives and thoughts of the characters. I think Evison is one of the Northwest's best writers.

s
Sue00123
Apr 28, 2018

Like some others, I was hoped this book would add depth to my enjoyment of the natural beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. Unfortunately, it proved to be an overlong string of poorly written sketches - a lot of good ideas only slightly realized. Several times I was stopped in my tracks by misspelled words that an editor should have caught since the author didn’t. I forged on past shallow characters and meager descriptions of a uniquely dense natural world (compare this to Kesey’s evocation of the Oregon forests in “Sometimes A Great Notion”) hoping to find the point of the story. I finally had to give it up when the author introduced an elderly librarian as “Flabby Arms”. It was one thing for his character to note that physical condition as a sign of her age, but for Evison to go on using the snarky term in place of her name or position was just typical of his sophomoric character development. I’m sorry that I labored so long trying to find something to like in “West of Here”. What a contrast when I picked up (and couldn’t put down) “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Now that’s how to write!

j
jenoteacher
Aug 14, 2014

I used to live outside of Port Angeles, and worked on the Elwha prior to the dam removal, so I was interested in the background and setting. The historical plot line seemed well researched and wove together interestingly with the modern story. Ultimately though, I just couldn't get past the overwrought style and cartoonish characters. I felt like I was reading Young Adult fiction, and was never able to be fully carried away. It has so many story elements I love: PNW history, a dash of the supernatural, overland adventure. I wanted to like it, but it was just too corny for my taste.

ChristchurchLib Jul 15, 2013

"Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington, this novel is composed of chapters that alternate between the present day and the 1890s. The inhabitants of Port Bonita at the end of the 1800s have lofty goals - building a dam, exploring the interior - whereas the current inhabitants would settle for a date or a case of beer. Like the entrepreneurial spirit of the town's founders, the dam itself is under threat as residents want to destroy it to bring back fish runs. With a big cast of well-realised characters, heady themes of discovering, taming, and rediscovering nature, and a strong sense of place, this novel will appeal to a wide range of readers, from those who love the Pacific Northwest to those interested in historical fiction." July 2013 Fiction A to Z newsletter http://www.nextreads.com/Display2.aspx?SID=5acc8fc1-4e91-4ebe-906d-f8fc5e82a8e0&N=655619

m
marmoore
Aug 21, 2012

I was more fascinated by the frontier days portion of the story than by the modern days parts.

rlbecker May 11, 2011

Epic, sweeping, historical and modern, gritty and mystical. These are words that describe this tale of events over 100 years ago and more recently. This tells the story of Port Bonita in western Washington State. Many of the chapters tell about the city's founding fathers and mothers, including entrepreneurs, native peoples and people just pushing progress in the form of a dam on the nearby river. Other chapters discuss people trying to make it in the modern city working menial jobs etc. Many of the founding families are still present in the modern stories. There is a psychic connection between members of a native american family from the past and present. This is a well-written story that is gripping to readers wanting a good story filled with adventure and character development. You meet many types of people on these pages, both good people and bad and those in-between.

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m
maiki69
Nov 18, 2019

Evison has a gift when it comes to storytelling. He bends and molds his characters 'til they jump right off the pages and stick to you like the mud and grit of the frontier his story is set in. He paints with masterful strokes in WEST OF HERE (Workman Publishing, $15.95), the history of Port Bonita, a fictional settlement based on the very real history of Port Angeles, Washington.

Set on the eve of statehood, Port Bonita is a dirty backwater teeming with possibility. Hardly more than a collection of shacks, Port Bonita has all the politics of a modern city. It's got impoverished Indians lingering at Hollywood Beach, existing in limbo between their old ways and the Great White Father's new. As a nation, the Indians are divided between the "savages" and a Christianized enclave led by Lord Jim who purchased their own land, only to find that by this act of self-determination, forfeited their right to federal recognition. There are idealists in Port Bonita too, a whole boatload of them living communally in an artists colony called the Commonwealth, an unlikely springboard for commercial industry, yet that is precisely where the town's first industrialist launches from.

With a cast of thousands, it's difficult to pinpoint precisely whose story WEST OF HERE is. It's the story of clashing cultures. It's the story of the last great expedition in the lower forty-eight. it's also a story about the land, and in that respect WEST OF HERE belongs to the mountains and rivers and forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

Really two stories in one, Evison writes about Port Bonita as a frontier backwater, then jumps to Port Bonita as a modern twenty-first century city. It offers a sharp comparison, which sadly points up the successes and failures of its residents.

Present-day Port Bonita is an economically depressed mill town dotted with retail chains. Its pioneering spirit has been replaced with corporate lethargy; its pioneers with teen huffers, puffers, and parolees. The star of the modern narrative is the dammed Elwha River. In an effort to correct mistakes of the past, the river is to be reclaimed for fish habitat which means removal of the dam. Port Bonitians accept it unblinking, not because they're all a bunch of raving environmentalists, but because they've grown accustomed to feeling powerless. Powerless and haunted by Port Bonita's past. Not even Ethan Thornburgh's descendants - the man whose vision it was to dam the river in the first place - care about its removal.

Although the stories take place over a century apart, their common threads - the dam, the forked tongues of federal and corporate agents - make this not two stories, but one and the same story. As if to drive the point home, Evison throws in a time-traveling autistic Indian boy from the 1890s named Thomas who is regarded by some of the Indians as a shaman, reviled by others. A mute, upon traveling to 2006 where he sees the world through the eyes of Curtis, finds his voice and shares what he's learned. "I have seen the many worlds," he said. "And they are here . . . There is no there," said [Thomas]. "All paths lead here."

In the end, WEST OF HERE is a ghost story. The residents of 2006 Port Bonita weave through life's challenges as if in a dream. Their ghosts are centuries old, created long before the story begins. They walk the land, as they are part of the land. The challenge for each Port Bonitian is how to rid themselves of such a haunting, or if it's even possible. As Lord Jim eloquently put it on the eve of his death in October 1890:

"We are born haunted . . . Haunted by our fathers and mothers and daughters, and by people we don't remember. We are haunted by otherness, by the path not taken, by the life unlived. We are haunted by the changing winds and the ebbing tides of history. And even as our own flame burns brightest, we are haunted by the embers of the first dying fire. But mostly . . . we are haunted by ourselves."

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maiki69
Nov 18, 2019

Part MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, part INTO THIN AIR and part HERE COME THE BRIDES, it's also a story about the land, and in that respect WEST OF HERE belongs to the mountains and rivers and forests . . .
http://www.penhhead.org/

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