I finished West of Here a couple of weeks ago, and it is time to stop delaying my review. Why have I delayed? I loved the book, but I've not been able to adequately resolve my reasons for loving it.
I loved the characters. All 42 of them. Was I ever confused with such a large number of characters (even if some were relatively minor)? No. Not really. Each character was unique--in personality, in purpose, in connection to his or her own place in time and storyline. In the same way that most of us can name all the members of our families, including aunts, uncles, cousins; and close friends, their spouses, and children; and co-workers, these characters just take their places in our consciousness. Teachers, think of teaching high school, 5 classes with 30 kids per class. Confusing? Only initially when you have 120 kids to learn all at once.
I loved the way the two time periods connected, the branch-like stories that sprouted from the same tree. The desire to conquer the wilderness, the concern for the environment, the greed, the idealism, the personal discoveries, the triumphs and defeats, the wanderings both literal and metaphorical...thematic material a-plenty.
It is an unusual book. I can't easily slip it into any genre that it doesn't resist a little.
Evison has a talent for making you identify with such a wide range of characters, all with flaws and some with major moral fissures. He also has the ability to conjure up communities in time periods over 100 years apart, from the origins of the fictitious Port Bonita in the 1890's to the contemporary town and inhabitants and to provide a breadth and depth that give the reader the sense of "knowing" the town in both incarnations.
What about the plot? Which plot?
It IS long, and I think it is will be one of those novels that you either love or hate--strong emotions one way or the other. Wish I could be more succinct, more efficient in my description of the book, but the book is so NOT one thing. Kind of like looking at a kaleidoscope and describing it.
The book was an ARC from Algonquin. One that I'm not only happy to have received, but happy to be able to say I thoroughly enjoyed.
Fiction. Historical and Contemporary. 2011. 480 pages.