While I am a strong advocate for any book that I take on as editor, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited by a novel than I am by Jonathan Evison’s West of Here. It’s not just that Evison is a great writer, able to bring to life both fascinating characters and the times they inhabit. It’s not just that this novel is a great piece of entertainment, and one that, in the end, gives the reader new insight into how we as a nation have been shaped and formed. It’s not just that Evison has managed to create a work of fiction that is both innovative and entirely accessible, melding two stories—more than a century apart—into a seamless whole. It is all these things and more: it is a romance, it is an adventure, it is a sublime reminiscence on the American experience, and, ultimately, like the works of such writers as Bret Harte and Larry McMurtry, I believe it will stand as a lasting piece of literary Americana.
One part of West of Here is set in 1890 and thereabouts, in the mythical town of Port Bonita, on Washington State’s rugged Pacific Coast. In that era we meet an assortment of characters—dreamers, adventurers, explorers, opportunists—who settle this wild land, in the process pushing the Native Americans, for whom it has been home, literally to the edge of the ocean. Running parallel to these storylines are those of the descendents of these settlers, now in the year 2006, forced to deal with the realities of the deeds and misdeeds of their forefathers.
In essence, it’s a story about the footprints of time, how mistakes keep happening, and how people keep on trying to be strong and brave and, most important, just and right. It is about the human spirit, both individual and collective. And it is about the echo of human life, how something said or done in one generation just keeps reverberating through all the years that follow.
To say that I love this book doesn’t begin to express the depth of my respect for its beauty or for the author’s accomplishments. It is a novel that I believe will claim the hearts of many readers, a book that will endure, by a writer who will become a major force in American literature.