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2011 Catapult Notable List – #2

#2: West of Here by Jonathan Evison
Now we’re really getting down to it. Real top tier stuff.
I read and wrote a long review of West of Here almost a year ago – right here – but even still, the characters and the town of Port Bonita have stuck solidly with me over all that time. Truly the mark of brilliance. Here’s a little blurby-blurb I wrote awhile back, a slightly different version of which also ran in the San Diego Union-Trib at some point:

The sprawling narrative of Evison’s brilliant novel never leaves the tiny river town of Port Bonita on Washington State’s Pacific coast, but the collection of voices he utilizes offers a resounding portrayal of how closely all of our lives connect & intersect, even across generations & hundreds of years. In 1890, Port Bonita is just getting started, as Washington is perched on the cusp of statehood & the untapped wilderness calls to the region’s transplanted residents. However, the PB of 2006 is standing on her last legs, a victim of the very model of industry that created the town in the first place. Evison skillfully & beautifully weaves together these vignettes (often riotously funny) of the lives of PB’s residents, bringing a wide variety of voices together in a chorus of humanity, ultimately showing us how thin the veils between generations really are. I loved every word. Onward!

WoH is sort of a staggeringly vast piece of fiction, filled with dozens of fully-formed characters with story arcs that twist and weave in and amongst each other over the course of generations and decades. The residents of 1890 PB are (for the most part) filled with vim & vigor – hopeful and ready for the future on the horizon for their frontier town. Their descendants in 2006 are… well, dealing with the rash decisions made back in the day. As it turns out, the technological masterpiece of a dam that put them on the map in the previous century has proven to be more problematic for the long-term life of the town than the founders originally thought. (As is, your all-important salmon canning industry kinda hinges on the fish being able to swim up the river.) This dichotomy between generational perspectives – seeing how much things didn’t actually pan out – is really the crux of the appeal of WoH. It’s all about the thread of connection we share with our predecessors – all the tiny, seemingly insignificant filaments of life history that bind us together across the years. 
Plus it’s really funny. (Maybe it’s because I’m writing this around Christmas, which is nog-season, but the Franklin Bell character, who drinks eggnog all-year round, kills me. He’s also based much of his life philosophy around the songs of Don Henley. I mean, c’mon.)
It’s a big, fat book, too – in the neighborhood of 500 pages – but I implore you to not be scared off by the girth. Like I said, much of it is funny as all hell and Evison manages balance things nicely with a subtly wide scope that envelops a large swath of humanity within its pages. All of these vignettes of PB’s residents – a cacophonous chorus of voices – are brilliantly woven together into a stunning tale of humanity at both its absolute worst and its heart-rendering best. The veil that separates generations proves to be rather thin, even porous, when you step back with a little historical perspective. And hell, isn’t that what we all hope for?
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This entry was posted on December 28, 2011 by in http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Jonathan Evison, review, West of Here.
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