Title: Legends of the North Cascades
Author: Jonathan Evison
Publication Date: 2021
Publishing House: Algonquin Books
I’m always looking for my next book and I’ve been trying to expand what I read over the last coupe of years. One way that I do that is to find regional literature. While visiting Olympic National Park I found a book of poetry by a local poet and hiker that was about the Olympic Range. While in Portland we visited a fantastic book store and of the multiple books I bought I did find one regional book that caught my interest. Rainier is part of the Cascade Range, not the North Cascades but at least I’m in the right state.
Dave Cartwright has had enough. After three tours in Iraq he has come home to Vigilante Falls in Washington State only to find that he feels incapable of connecting to the people and the place that once defined him. Most days, his love for his seven-year-old daughter, Bella, is the only thing keeping him going. When tragedy strikes, Dave makes a dramatic decision: he will take Bella to live in a cave in the wilderness of the North Cascades.
So begins a compelling adventure, a story of a father and daughter attempting to cope with a breathtaking but harsh environment. Once they are settled in the cave, Bella retreats into a different world, that of a mother and son who had lived in that same space, but thousands of years before, at the end of last Ice Age. As the two dramas begin to merge, a timeless odyssey unfolds, both as a meditation on the perils of isolation and an exploration of humans’ indelible struggle to survive.
This was a tough book to read. It has a lot more politics than I typically enjoy to read about, however due to the main character having done three tours over seas they are needed to add some depth. Dave is a stubborn man, who has been strong for a long time. He did what he thought was right for a long time. At the point where the reader is introduced to him he doesn’t know what the right thing to do anymore is; he is failing at work and in his marriage.
Dave’s decision to leave is radical. It does hurt him and his daughter and their extended family but at the same time sometimes doing the radical thing later leads him to see his life in a different light. One of my favorite things about this book are these interviews with people around Vigilante Falls: Dave’s old football coach, his mother, his brother, an old military friend. These people tell what Dave was like growing up, how he has changed, and what they think of his decision to live in a cave. This book gives a great sense of Dave becoming the crazy cave man – a local legend and not in a good way.
The other side of the story has Bella, while living in the cave she sees visions of the past and lives long past. If Bella and Dave’s lives are difficult in the cave, then the lives of it’s previous occupants were near near impossible and there survival at all was a miracle.
This is not a book that I would reread but I am glad to have read it. I suggest this book for fans of regional literature, for those who want books on survival and those looking to find something – even if you are not sure what. Happy reading.
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