From the great rain-drenched woods of America’s northwest, Hart (Then Came the Evening, 2009) offers a Hobbesian saga—men and women against nature, and themselves, in struggles solitary and poor, nasty and brutish.
The 20th century is nigh. Jacob Ellstrom, doctor’s bag and beautiful wife, Nell, in hand, washes up at Harbor, a coastal settlement north of Portland, a place so rich in timber as to draw "ax-wielding maniacs hacking at the world." Nell gives birth to a son, Duncan, but Jacob’s soon found to be a fraud rather than a trained physician, and he wreaks vengeance on Nell. One beating is near fatal. With help, Nell fakes her death and flees. Jacob, fearing the noose, heads to the woods. Abandoned young Duncan grows up admiring Bellhouse and Tartan, part-time union organizers and full-time thieves. He also loves Teresa, a rich mill owner’s daughter. That romance ends a decade later when Duncan murders Teresa’s father and, like his own father, takes to the woods rather than face justice. Hart’s sense of place—terrain, weather, frontier people—is brilliant, every scene an homage to Robert Altman’s epic McCabe and Mrs. Miller. It’s a tale of robber barons, "clean, covetous and mean," and millworkers, lumberjacks and feral toughs, "the maimed and the mutinous, low-graders, the sick-brained...like shavings of metal stuck to a greasy magnet." The story is told from different points of view: Duncan, Jacob, Nell, Tartan and Native Americans "amazed at the ferocity of the whites." There are dazzling characterizations like Matius, Jacob’s psychopathic brother, and Kozmin, an immigrant hermit who weaves in an allegorical tale of Tarakanov, a Russian long-ago marooned in Alaska. In short, declarative sentences building into a dense, deep and illuminating narrative, Hart writes of greed and ambition and of fathers and sons who have "gone beyond forgiveness and entered a foreign and evil land."
Think the brutal realities of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian set among the primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest frontier.