This peculiar novel starts out as a straight intergenerational history showing how the building of a dam by a small town in 1890, which was meant to make the town prosper, ends up determining its future as a permanent backwater. The novel also tells the story of a nearly disastrous expedition into the Olympic Peninsula. The time alternates between 1890, when the dam becomes an idea of an early entrepreneur, and 2007, when the town is beginning to dismantle it.
If there is such a thing as ensemble fiction, this is it, since the book has many characters, none of whom seem to be more important than the others. Because it has many characters, it has many stories, the oddest of which is that of a mute Klallam Indian boy in 1890 who somehow shares consciousness with a troubled Indian boy in 2007. In 2007, everyone assumes the boy is psychotic and he is admitted to a mental ward. In 1890, he starts his own cult.
Characters in the historical portion are an early feminist fleeing her lover; a prostitute who is fighting with the owner of the whorehouse; the Klallam Indians, already on their way to being destroyed; and an idealistic entrepreneur. Characters in the later story are a Bigfoot enthusiast, a seafood plant worker who longs for the days when he was a high school basketball star, an ex-convict who wants to live off the land, and an environmental scientist.
Evison has written a quirky, interesting book that is sometimes humorous, but I found it a little too diffuse, with too many characters, and too much going on. Although we may be meant to contrast the vigorous original settlers with the sad sacks of the present, the seeds of the area’s troubles are there right from the beginning. Perhaps that is the point. Still, I think the intentions of the author are unclear, and the novel is muddy as a result.