Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Yesterday: West of Here by Jonathan Evison

It is always distressing to me when I discover a book that I strongly suspect will be one of my picks for best book of the year too early in the twelvemonth. If by late January you’re already reading something you know will be hard to beat, you just can’t help wondering why read any further.

I had this feeling again and again while reading West of Here (Algonquin), a lovingly rendered novel, epic in scope, that tells the story of the settlement of the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, and the impact that white settlers ultimately have on the region.

That description sounds more dry than the story Evison evokes. This is, after all, a lusty, full-blooded tale and the writer has created a story about nature lost and found in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Moving us skillfully back and forth between the 19th century and contemporary Washington State, Evison tells a story that melds the mood and sensibilities of another era with the supposedly more enlightened consciousness of this one.

It’s difficult to credit that this is Evison’s second novel. West of Here is ambitious and mature; a masterwork. The author’s first book, 2009’s All About Lulu, won the Washington State Book Award. I found myself wondering if West of Here had begun as Evison’s starter novel: begun long ago and pulled more recently from a drawer. After a while, though, I decided it didn’t matter. However it came about, West of Here is one of the best books I anticipate reading in 2011. I suspect it may be yours, too. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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