Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, on Washington State’s rugged Pacific coast, West of Here is propelled by a story that both re-creates and celebrates the American experience—it is storytelling on the grandest scale. With one segment of the narrative focused on the town’s founders circa 1890 and another showing the lives of their descendants in 2006, the novel develops as a kind of conversation between two epochs, one rushing blindly toward the future and the other struggling to undo the damage of the past.
My two teasers are the opening lines from the first two chapters; I was struck by the similarities, over 100 years apart. Of course it’s intentional on the part of the author, and it’s very clever.
Here’s the first paragraph from the first chapter, Footprints, September 2006:
Just as the keynote address was winding down, the rain came hissing up the little valley in sheets. Crepe paper streamers began bleeding red and blue streaks down the front of the dirty white stage, and the canopy began to sag beneath the weight of standing water, draining a cold rivulet down the tuba player’s back. When the rain started coming sideways in great gusts, the band furiously began packing their gear. In the audience, corn dogs turned to mush and cotton candy wilted. The crowd quickly scattered, and within minutes the exodus was all but complete. Hundreds of Port Bonitans funneled through the exits toward their cars, leaving behind a vast muddy clearing riddled with sullied napkins and paperboard boats.
And the opening paragraph from the second chapter, Storm King, January 1880:
The storm of January 9, 1880, drove inland near the mouth of the Columbia River, roaring with gale-force winds. It was not a gusty blow, but a cold and unrelenting assault, a wall of hyperborean wind ravaging everything in its northeasterly path for nearly four hundred miles. As far south as Coos Bay, the Emma Utter, a three-masted schooner, dragged anchor and smashed against the rock-strewn coastline, as her bewildered crew watched from the shore. The mighty Northern Pacific, that miracle of locomotion, was stopped dead in its tracks in Beaverton by upward of six hundred trees, all downed in substantially less than an hour’s time. In Clarke County, windfall damage by mid-afternoon was estimated at one in three trees.
The details in both paragraphs are fantastic, the reader immediately gets a sense of what mattered to the people of Port Bonita both in 1880 and more than a century later in 2006. I found striking that leisure and waste were/are more prevalent in the 21st century. We also are aware of how powerful the weather remains, how we can’t tame nature, carver of the canyons and flooder of plains.
I’m looking forward to continuing the novel and following the Port Bonitans through the centuries.
Is West of Here on your reading list? Can you share a few teaser sentences from the book you’re reading this week?