Top 8 Pacific NW Novels
Those sections of my novel, Wilderness, that are not set during the American Civil War take place in the Pacific Northwest. To that end, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to list, in no particular order, my eight favorite novels set in this corner of the United States. Now, to be fair, a couple of these are real stretches in their connection the NW, and one isn’t a novel at all, but all possess that certain something that makes me think of them as NW books.
(Why eight? Honestly? Eight was all I could come up with…)
1) No-No Boy by John Okada. Set in 1946, the book is about Ichiro Yamada, who returns to Seattle after two years in the Japanese-American internment camps and two years in federal prison, and his attempt to realize his place in post-war American society. The novel is less a political thing and more a study of the relationship between mother and son. And there’s some terrific stuff about Seattle at mid-century.
2) Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey. Well, it’s either this or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But a semi-stream-of-consciousness novel about an Oregon logging family and Union labor strikes? Sign me up. This is a pretty difficult novel but I’ll always remember the fantastic opening paragraphs describing Hank Stamper’s severed, frozen arm swinging from the tree branch he’d tied it to, defiant middle-finger extended.
3) Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson. Okay, so maybe his later/current stuff is a rough going and maybe Ed King won him first place in the Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction Award,” but Cedars is still a hell of a book. So there.
4) West of Here, by Jonathan Evison. This one’s right in my wheelhouse with much of it taking place very close to the same locales my character, Abel Truman, trudges through. Set in 1889 and present day in alternating sections, West of Here is set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington and is filled with colorful characters and sly humor. Some Big Themes in there, too. Good stuff and recommended.
5) The Living, by Annie Dillard. Yes. This. More than any other piece of fiction on this list, The Living helped to shape the way I think about and the way I see the wilderness of Washington State. Historical, pioneer fiction that is as precise and dense as it is lyrical. It’s been too many years since I’ve read it.
6) Reamde, by Neal Stephenson. Well, he’s a Seattleite and this one has big chunks set in/around Boeing Field and other familiar locales so there’s your Northwest angle. Besides, I think he’s a genius and I am a bit of a fanboy.
7) Singleton, by Jack Cady. Cady was a cranky NW writer that I met once and who made sweeping, angry red marks all over a draft of the first chapter of Wilderness that I was foolish enough to show him before it was really ready to be shown to anyone. Cady had a beard like Lincoln, God’s own speaking voice, and wrote prose as muscular as his hands were big. Singleton, which is about a trucker in the 50s, doesn’t have much to do about the Northwest but Cady did, thus its place here.
8) Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. Not a novel but in its reportage it has the heart of one. Great, tragic story. Made into a not-terrible movie with a pretty good performance by Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch who can do way WAY better than “The Darkest Hour”…but I digress).
Most of these titles can be ordered from your local independent bookstore. Go forth and read.