Jonathan Evison

In our present age of irony and gimmick lit, Bainbridge Island writer Jonathan Evison has bravely set out to write an old-fashioned sort of novel, in the tradition of Steinbeck and London. Furthering his ambition in this fictional history of the Olympic Peninsula, he divides the book into two eras: the late 1890s and 2006. West of Here begins with an expedition trudging up the Elwha River Valley, which will soon be damned. It ends with the imminent removal of that dam—as is true in real life. Between those two points, a great deal happens to a great many characters, and an index would’ve been helpful—besides the maps of Port Bonita (think Port Angeles) and its rugged environs. Evison’s chapters are short, and they often end in cliffhangers, which helps to pace the 500 pages. Though as you follow some of the same families across a century’s divide, you wish for him to settle down and make camp, to spend more time with one or two souls. Then there’s the question of an overarching theme, a tradition lately revived by Jonathan Frazen. Still, you keep reading. And if this muscular, colorful novel coalesces into anything, it’s the community of memory—history recollected from a dozen or more perspectives, which finally yields a pattern. As stated by a sage Native American healer, “Our memories are not ours alone. Our experience belongs to all that is living, and all that has ever lived.” BRIAN MILLER

Tue., Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m., 2012