Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Westward Ho!: The Life of a Town + Giveaway

Jonathan Evison created an epic in West of Here—a century-sweeping history of a fictional town called Port Bonita in Washington's Olympic Peninsula. I grabbed this at BEA a couple years ago and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to pick it up since, and my current reading project afforded me that chance.

This 500-page chunkster flips back and forth between the early days of Port Bonita in the 1880s and the present early 2000s. Not only is West of Here expansive in terms of time; there are also lots of characters to follow, from early explorers and a hard-headed 19th-century prostitute to a Sasquatch hunter and 21st-century Indian. For the most part, the characters each have their own storyline, but they do often overlap and interact. As the reader, you're constantly thrown back and forth between times, which may sound a bit overwhelming, but it's not; it's a smooth read.

I have to say, I didn't give this book much thought as I was reading it. For a chunkster, I got through it fairly quickly, and it was an enjoyable read. I love this kind of epic story that pulls us into the past and present and introduces us to a number of unique characters and their lives. However, there's not much of an over-arching plot; it's more a series of stories and experiences. And the whole time, I found the characters just meh. Not that they weren't well written or strong; I just didn't particularly like any of them. But then again, I didn't particularly dislike any of them either, so what I'm trying to say is that I didn't have a strong emotional tie to any of them.

It wasn't until now, as I'm writing this, a month after finishing it, that I'm starting to really think of the themes of this book. The obvious ones are man as relating to his environment—nature, progress, development. Nature plays such a huge, conflicting role in all of these stories. Should it be conquered for progress' sake? Preserved for progress' sake? No matter which viewpoint, the characters possess that rugged, frontier relationship with nature in which it is there and they are a part of it and must react accordingly.

Because this book is a fairly easy one to read, I think it's also easy to miss the point of it all, easy to close it once you've finished and think no more about it, because its themes need no deep analysis. And I think that's selling it short. I probably won't be clamoring to read this again, but its perspective on man's attitude in the face of nature is worth hearing.

I have an extra copy of this book to giveaway. If you're interested, leave a comment below and I'll shoot you an email. (Of course, I fully expect you to discuss it with me after reading!)

No comments: