three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-West of HereThis is the second published novel by Jonathan Evison, whose first work was All About Lulu (2008). He was also the founder and front man for March of Crimes, a Seattle band that included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

The Story: In the late 19th century, Port Bonita (based on Port Angeles, Oregon) is an up-and-coming frontier town, a rival to Seattle. In 2006 it is indistinguishable from hundreds of other run-down small towns, its economy centered on its Walmarts and Indian casinos and its local environment degraded. But residents of the town over three centuries have struggles that are epic and absurd. They pursue foolish quests and harbor secret loves and ambitions. And they are connected in ways that are obvious and obscure. West of Here is no less than the story of how two generations make meaning out of a single place.
Algonquin Books. 486 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9781565129528

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"West of Here is a tale of a journey, where humans are made heroic by circumstance and by often accidental choices. Not all the choices are right or good, these people aren't superheroes. Despite the fact that several plot threads are started only to disappear, this is a novel that a reader can settle into, a work that is, most of all, a darned good story." Robin Vidimos

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[F]or the most part, [Evison] has created clearly drawn individuals, and he moves them playfully around the chessboard of his story in short, punchy chapters that make this hefty book of big ideas and personalities positively breezy. ... Modern life does seem more compact than the endless potential that greets Port Bonita's forefathers. What makes it big and unforgettable is Evison's wide-raging imagination and gifted storytelling." Connie Ogle

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Evison's odd genius is to structure his novel geographically, its jagged edges and swirling storylines a mirror of the toothy mountains and uneven estuaries of its setting. ... The story, like the river, keeps flowing, its author showing us that there are some frontiers humans can never fully tame." Bethanne Patrick

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Evison's constant, confident voice feels as comfortable relating mystical monologues from tribal elders as it does relating the history of Native American members of the X-Men. ... Reading West of Here, you feel as at home among the mountain men, prostitutes and crusaders of the 19th-century mudscape as among the parolees, bartenders and former high-school basketball stars of the 21st." Marc Mohan

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[Evison] captures Native American legends, Bigfoot enthusiasts, and the romance and violence and adventures that run through people's daily lives. ... Evison, a tremendously gifted storyteller, has staked claim to a wondrous frontier he can proudly call his own." Don Waters

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Author Jonathan Evison gives us a jaunty, rain-slicked quest story, fat and close to the earth as a smoky cedar log. ... It won't be the best novel this year, but its ending is clever and satisfying, and its arrival could signal the breakout of a promising career." Karen R. Long

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Characters occasionally blur together, and some of the more interesting ones don't get the attention they warrant, as the large scope hinders any close-ups. Still, if you take a step back, the big picture is pretty impressive." Keith Staskiewicz

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"At times, Evison can be a marvelously evocative writer, but has difficulty creating a sense of narrative tension between the two halves of the book, which is the lifeblood of this endeavor. ... Aiming high and failing magnificently is ... the best possible outcome, and Jonathan Evison's confidence in his tale is certain to boost his star a little higher in the heavens." Jay Atkinson

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"While Evison's natural descriptions can be marvelous, his character portrayal is too often superficial, perhaps because he's tried to jam in more than a mere 500 pages can accommodate. ... Evison is an obvious talent--but West of Here is an unwieldy manifestation of his gifts." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

That Evison has attempted something epic in West of Here there is no doubt. In general, reviewers were happily surprised to see a novel that took on such sweeping themes of the American frontier in the "maximalist" style of Charles Dickens but that was also peppered with ironic, postmodern touches of contemporaries Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Safran Foer. Such comparisons, combined with an early superlative endorsement (Algonquin Books editor Chuck Adams reportedly called West of Here the best book he'd worked on in four decades), mean the book was guaranteed not to live up to a few critics' expectations. In particular, several complained that the novel has too many significant characters (more than 40) and that the narratives of the different generations never truly resonate with each other. All reviewers recognized Evison's substantial storytelling talent; some simply felt that his best books are yet to come.