“Inevitably there are three sides to any story.” These are the words of Mary Ann Lambert, historian of the S’Klallam people, who live around Port Townsend, Washington, on the extreme northwest tip of the United States. Born in November 1879, Mary Ann is considered one of the most important recorders of S’Klallam history, documenting not only their traditional lore but also their interactions with the incoming white people and some of their stories, too.
The title of the book, Dungeness, is the name of a sandbar in the ocean where, in 1878, the S’Klallam massacred 18 Tsimshians. Mary Ann grew up beside the spit, daughter of a Norwegian sailor turned fisherman-farmer and his native wife, Annie. Mary Ann is raised to be at home and competent in the forest, on the water, and in the kitchen.
Her stories have been passed along and form the heart of Dungeness, mingled with historical fiction to create a patchwork quilt of a book. Despite its many facets and its wanderings away from the main theme, the writer has created an overall unity combining truth, human frailty and strength, and philosophical depth. She has taken Mary Ann Lambert’s knowledge and understanding to create a multi-dimensional picture of a place, a time and a mingling of people.
The protagonist in Dungeness is Millie—a fictionalized Mary Ann Lambert. Her deeply spiritual nature is shown in contrast to life in the nearest town known as “Whiskey City”—Port Townsend. The novel’s strength is its sensory detail as noted by a child of nature. It’s a book to be read word-by-word to savor its full depth and meaning. Mary Ann’s/Millie’s observations of her native environment, and the people superimposed on that, are the third and most revealing side of the story.