Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Jonathan Evison's West of Here takes place in Washington State in two intertwining time periods, about a hundred years apart. No, this is not a time travel book; it's a book about how the actions of one's long-dead ancestors can resonate through the generations.
Here's the publisher's summary:
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.I confess to having a soft spot for books that take place in the American West in the late nineteenth century. I often wonder if I would have had the strength to leave the comforts and safety of settled lands for the awe-inspiring chance to see a world that had not yet been completely altered by contemporary technology. It seems only reasonable that actions taken in those life- and culture-changing times for both pioneers and Native Americans could have long-term effects within the families directly involved.
An exposition on the effects of time, on how something said or done in one generation keeps echoing through all the years that follow, and how mistakes keep happening and people keep on trying to be strong and brave and, most important, just and right, West of Here harks back to the work of such masters of Americana as Bret Harte, Edna Ferber, and Larry McMurtry, writers whose fiction turned history into myth and myth into a nation’s shared experience. It is a bold novel by a writer destined to become a major force in American literature.
I am fascinated by the contrasts and constants of humans and their relationships with each other, their community, and the natural environment over the decades. Here is a moment from the 1880s:
When Ethan and Jacob reached the head of the canyon and emerged in the snow-blanketed meadow below the bluff, the grandeur of the scene was lost on neither man. The valley was a bowl of glorious white, and beyond the foothills the rugged snow-capped peaks of divide loomed in dramatic relief, crisp against a backdrop of deep blue sky. And right in the middle of it all, Ethan was overjoyed to see his sturdy little cabin transformed. . . .And one from the twenty-first century:
And standing there on the lip of the gorge, with a stiff wind rocketing past his ears, his arm draped over the shoulder of the man whom he hoped would soon be his brother-in-law, Ethan envisioned a glorious future for Port Bonita, twenty, thirty, a hundred years and beyond. (pp. 119-120)
Though the strait was still a vaporous wall of white beyond Ediz Hook, the fog had broken inland but for a few wisps and tatters, and the sun angled in weakly from the southeast, illuminating the Red Lion Inn, where a UPS truck was idling out front and an old fellow with a walker and a blue windbreaker was inching his way across the parking lot toward the stairs to Hollywood Beach. (p. 123)Probably not the Port Bonita that Ethan was dreaming about.
In the following video, Evison talks about his writing process:
West of Here is an Indie Next pick for February 2011. To learn more about the novel, be sure to visit the very cool website, where you can see maps and postcards and learn more about the book and Jonathan Evison.
This book was spotlighted as part of both my Imprint Fridays feature and my Get to know Algonquin Books feature. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.