West of Here

Written by Jonathan Evison
Review by Nanette Donohue

During the 1890s, pioneers carved towns out of the wilderness of the Washington State coastline. One of those towns, Port Bonita, was founded by a rogues’ gallery of radicals, petty criminals, eccentrics, and ambitious outsiders who had no idea what they were getting into.

In 2006, their descendants are cleaning up the physical and psychological mess that is their ancestors’ legacy to them. The physical representation of this mess: the dam on the Elwha River, which runs through Port Bonita. The dam is the symbol of the town and the bane of its existence, and much of the plot centers around its building in the 1890s and the present-day debate over its potential destruction.

There are a lot of characters and a lot of activity, and it takes about 100 pages to figure out who’s who and what motivates them. Evison draws entertaining parallels between the characters who inhabit 1890s Port Bonita and the characters who inhabit the present-day town. And they are characters – early Port Bonita settler Jacob Thornburgh, whose vision of a dam on the Elwha River drives his ambitions, and his sad-sack descendant, Jared, an underachiever trapped by his family legacy. There’s Dalton Krigstadt, an 1890s version of a slacker who “hauls things” for a living, and his descendant Dave, a Bigfoot-obsessed modern slacker of an age where it’s no longer clever or cool to be a slacker, just pathetic. There’s also one character who somehow manages to transcend time in a very unusual way.

At turns rowdy, raucous, and provocative, West of Here is an excellent choice for readers who like a long, character-driven novel with a wry sense of humor, plenty of action, and a surprising amount of heart.