More than 100 years separate the flood of characters in Jonathan Evison’s bracing epic novel, and yet as different as their lives are, some truths remain solid despite the passage of time. Men will attempt to forge into the unknown whether they’re mapping dangerous uncharted territory or trying to prove the existence of Bigfoot. Women will strain against the uncomfortable limits of domesticity, and visionaries will eventually run smack into harsh reality. And mountains, well, mountains will always work nicely as metaphors for the greatness we might achieve even if we never will.
West of Here is a sprawling tragicomic novel about identity — national and personal — that’s as entertaining as it is insightful into the human need to make a mark on the landscape. The land in question here is Port Bonita on Washington State’s Olympic peninsula, at the mouth of the mighty Elwha River, where Evison’s parallel stories dovetail the town of 1890 (prostitutes, Shakers, adventurers, entrepreneurs) with its present (Walmart, casinos, KFC, Sasquatch hunters). The original citizens are a mix of rough-and-tumble opportunists, doomed Native Americans and motivated dreamers who envision Port Bonita’s future as a rival to Seattle (which has conveniently just burned to the ground). Their modern descendants desire things, too: companionship, better jobs, a loosely defined freedom. They are slowly realizing, however, that a big payment is coming due for all of their ancestors’ miscalculations.
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