Monday, March 7, 2011

"West of Here": Jonathan Evison appearing in Decatur on Thursday, March 10

Jonathan Evison's new novel about the Pacific Northwest, West of Here, is a comic and sprawling story that is equal parts Edward Abbey and Ken Kesey. It's the fictional tale of events in the town of Port Bonita over the course of one hundred years as the townsfolk try to reclaim the land from the effects of a dam across the Elwa River, an ecological history of the Olympic Peninsula told with an evolving cast of characters.

The book is populated with a wide assortment of idealists, ex-cons, adventurers, politicos and romantics. In the fictional town of Port Bonita there is the very real story of the Pacific Northwest struggling to reconcile the past with the present. Evison himself could be one of the more colorful characters in the book: in a 2010 interview he says his previous jobs include "gardener, laborer, roadkill-hacker-upper, bartender, tomato-sorter, water-meter-checker, courier, telemarketer, busboy, barista (or is it baristo?), production assistant, production coordinator, producer, director, columnist, screenwriter, talk radio host. There’s gotta’ be a dozen more. Oh, vintage clothing dealer, cook, ice cream server, dishwasher. Wait, I know I’m forgetting a few: journeyman cabinet maker, auto detailer, errand boy. ... I started working when I was twelve–bussing tables for my waitress sister, who paid me out of pocket."

Evison will be at the First Baptist Church (Decatur) on Thursday, March 10 at 7:00 p.m. in an appearance sponsored by Georgia Center for the Book. Here is an excerpt from West of Here, which is published by Algonquin Books.

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.

Krig stood his ground near center stage, his mesh Raiders jersey plastered to his hairy stomach, as the valediction sounded its final stirring note.

"There is a future," Jared Thornburgh said from th
e podium. "And it begins right now."

"Hell yes!" Krig shouted, pumping a fist in the air. "Tell it like it is, J-man!" But when he looked around for a reaction, he discovered he was alone. J-man had already vacated the stage and was running for cover.

Knowing that the parking lot would be gridlock, Krig cut a squelchy path across the clearing toward the near edge of the chasm, where a rusting chain-link fence ran high above the sluice gate. Hooking his fingers through the fence, he watched the white water roar through the open jaws of the dam into the canyon a hundred feet below, where even now a beleaguered run of fall chinook sprung from the shallows only to beat their silver heads against the concrete time and again. As a kid he had tho
ught it was funny.

Jonathan Evison

The surface of Lake Thornburgh churned and tossed on the upriver side, slapping at the concrete breakwater. The face of the dam, hulking and gray, teeming with ancient moss below the spillway, was impervious to these conditions. Its monstrous twin turbines knew nothing of their fate as they hummed up through the earth, vibrating in Krig's bones.

Standing there at the edge of the canyon with the wet wind stinging his face, Krig felt the urge to leave part of himself behind, just like the speech said. Grimacing under the strain, he began working the ring back and forth over his fat knuckle for the first time in twenty-two years. It was just a ring. There were eleven more just like it. Hell, even Tobin had one, and he rode the pine most of that season. Krig knew J-man was talking about something bigger. J-man was talking about rewriting history. But you had to start somewhere. When at last Krig managed to work the ring over his knuckle, he held it in his palm and gave pause.

"Well," he said, addressing the ring. "Here goes nothin', I guess."

And rearing back, he let it fly into a stiff headwind, and watched it plummet into the abyss until he lost sight of it. He lingered at the edge of the gorge for a long moment and let the rain wash over him, until his clinging jersey grew heavy. Retracing his own steps across the muddy clearing toward the parking slab, Krig discovered that already the rain was washing away his footprints.

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