Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jonathan Evison Book Tour Review



Short version: Interesting author but a bookseller’s nightmare. This novel needed explanation and tonight the author failed to give this book a boost.

Jonathan Evison arrives to read about his newest book “West of Here.”
There is a great deal of buzz in the book industry about this novel. The short blurb about the book is weak. It is vague and uninteresting so hope abounds that the author can explain what this book is about to generate the excitement felt by the booksellers.

One look at Mr.Evison’s background and it is evident that he is the kind of author desperately needed in America.

He has no Ph.D. in U.S. History (no college degree at all), he is not a Pulitzer Prize winner or even a newspaper hack for the Village Voice. So you can kiss the elitist snob resume right out the window.

Mr. Evison is of that special breed of writer that is dangerous and more often than not this kind of man produces the best kind of literature. Hemingway drove ambulance in Italy, Steinbeck followed the migration to California, and Faulkner scrapped by on job after job while writing on his lunch breaks. The point it best American writers are those that have done something in their lives to merit being labeled a misfit or loser or were willing to explore the subjects about which they write. They work in bars, coal mines, fight wars, and ruin themselves to the point where they only have one thing left: a story to tell.

Mr. Evison is an affable man, combining an Ivy League vocabulary and the street smarts of a Jim Thompson character.

So, this should have been a memorable evening, but his reading tonight was in a word: confusing.

The Reading.

This is the beginning of a major book tour. Evison has packed the basement of Elliot Bay with fans, friends and college students. Cookies and water are available as tonight’s reading is sponsored by Seattle University’s creative writing program. T-shirts are for sale promoting the book, oh and someone should have reminded the author that his book was for sale.

The reading starts slow. Evison is late making his entrance to basement of Elliot Bay, despite having arrived to the store over an hour earlier. He looks nervous, and gives a brief but gracious opening and thanks to the bookstore. He announces he will read then talk and read a few more experts and some more lecture. Fine.

He is dressed like an extra from an 80’s RUN DMC video. Complete with black sports coats, black slacks, V-neck sweater topped by a black porkpie hat and just for an added touch: black and white Chuck Taylor sneakers. The look works well for him.

The quality of his voice is flat, graveled but intriguing. It is the voice of a man who has spent his adult years sucking in second hand smoke and yelling over loud music in bars.

He reads bad as if he were unrehearsed, which may account for nerves, but did not account for the scattered reading selections he presents with little to no introduction, and fails to connect how his specific reading selections are related to either the books theme or how they interplay with the previous section.

Then there was the language factor. Shocking for a man with such a large vast vocabulary to choose reading selections containing F-bomb after F-bomb. Noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, there had not been this much cussing in Seattle since President Bush was last in town.

He explains the book is 40 points of view and spans over a hundred years of history, making continuity of the novel challenge and this might explain why the continuity of tonights reading goes along the same path. The novel takes place in a mythical town on the Washington State Peninsula, near the real town of Port Angeles. The book seems to deal with the exploration and settlement of the Olympic Mountain range, which one hundred years ago, was the last uncharted territory of the lower 48 states. The author describes the book dealing with such things as the damning of the Elwha River and how the sins of the past affect the present day.

He writes of modern disillusionment, fractured marriage, logging, fishing, local Indian tribes and of all things Bigfoot. Mr. Evison calls it an attempt to produce a “kaleidoscope of history,” but his reading presentation was more akin to trying to playing marbles on the deck of a crab boat fishing in the Bering Sea.

The Q & A session is really this author’s strong suit. Mr. Evison has the ability to connect with an audience. He rambles on, tangent after tangent, revealing much of himself, his failing in the school system, knocking around the Pacific Northwest and giving particularly wild dissertation on the possible existence of Bigfoot. None of these subjects are clear as to how it fits in the book but Mr. Evison is at these moments hysterically funny.

The challenge will be to see how Mr. Evison does author readings in other regions of the country; presenting to rooms full of strangers in places who have never heard of the Olympic Peninsula (Outside of Bella and Edward) or why they should care to read this book.

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