Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Time and a Place

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"I've been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain." 

The lyrics to that song might as well be playing in the background as you read Gods Without Men, because it's all about the desert. 

In the middle of the Mojave there's a butte topped by three spires of rock called the Pinnacles. It's the sort of a place that has a power all its own, and the characters in this novel find themselves drawn there. Skipping through time, from Spanish missionaries in 1778 to a burned out British rock star 2009, Hari Kunzru's novel weaves together the lives of people affected by this desert formation. 

If you'd like to hear more about this book, click here to read my full review. Or if the Pacific Northwest is more your speed, keep reading below.

West of Here by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1890 Ethan Thornburgh is determined to dam the Elwha River to provide power for Port Bonita, a small settlement clinging to the coast of what is soon to be the state of Washington. Not far from the town, a group of idealists strives for a Utopia that's a far cry from the drunken brawls and rough living of the typical frontier town. The encroachment of these groups is upsetting the balance of the native Klallam Indians, who are waiting for a sign from a silent child they've named the Storm King. Then James Mather arrives in town, planning to explore the wilderness, trekking up the path of the Elwha into parts unknown, seeking land unseen by any other man. The mantra of Point Bonita in these days is "Onward!" as each resident searches for a better life. 

Now, flash forward a century to discover how the current residents of Port Bonita are faring.

In 2006 Jared Thornburgh is a manager at the only fish processing plant left in Port Bonita, far fewer than in its heyday. After more than a century the government has plans to tear down Thornburgh Dam, and he couldn't care less. What has Port Bonita ever done for him? Life there seems just like life in a thousand other towns, with a KFC and a Taco Bell on the main street and a Wal-Mart on the edge of town. Krigstadt, a part-time Bigfoot hunter, spends his days wondering what went wrong with his life after high school, while Rita worries that she's not taking better care of her suddenly distant teenage son. The only place you'll find the word "Onward!" is a tattoo on the arm of Timmon Tillman, an ex-con who just moved to town for a fresh start. But when things stop going his way, he sets off for the wilderness, unwittingly following in the footsteps of explorer James Mather. 

This book flips back and forth, from the beginnings of Port Bonita, to the present day, telling the story of these two seemingly disparate groups trying to make their ways in the world. Though the decades have changed the details of life in Port Bonita, the current residents come to hope that a little of the can-do attitude from a century before can still make for a brighter tomorrow.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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