June 8, 2021
Blurb: Dave Cartwright used to be good at a lot of things: good with his hands, good at solving problems, good at staying calm in a crisis. But on the heels of his third tour in Iraq, the fabric of Dave’s life has begun to unravel. Gripped by PTSD, he finds himself losing his home, his wife, his direction. 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: the two of them will flee their damaged lives, heading off the grid to live in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
As they carve out a home in a cave in that harsh, breathtaking landscape, echoes of its past begin to reach them. Bella retreats into herself, absorbed by visions of a mother and son who lived in the cave thousands of years earlier, at the end of the last ice age. Back in town, Dave and Bella themselves are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend—to all but those who would force them to return home.
As winter sweeps toward the North Cascades, past and present intertwine into a timeless odyssey. Poignant and profound, Legends of the North Cascades brings Jonathan Evison’s trademark vibrant, honest voice to bear on an expansive story that is at once a meditation on the perils of isolation and an exploration of the ways that connection can save us.
By now, you may have noticed that I do not waffle on reviews. A good portion of the way through a book my opinion has been formed and I’m already writing mentally what I’m going to say in a review.
However, as I contemplate Legends of the North Cascades, I am at a loss. First off, it’s well written, extremely well written, and engaging. Jonathan Evison has created characters that you care about and try to understand. They are multi-dimensional.
But there’s a viscerally, bloody, gory scene (enough adjectives?) that unhinged me midway through that I couldn’t get beyond. This is probably not a book for bleeding heart vegetarians/vegans or people who find it extremely difficult to read about women being violated.
The novel is undoubtedly complex. We are presented with Dave Cartwright, a great high school football player, who had aspirations for college that never went to fruition because he was too small and the one opportunity he had went up in smoke. He enlisted, went to war in the Middle East, and returned, not the same. His relationship with his high school sweetheart dissolves into arguments. When she leaves in a huff, she gets into a fatal accident. Left to take care of Bella, their daughter, and completely disillusioned about the world around him in which a self-proclaimed orange demi-god rules, Dave chooses a cave in the Cascades as his future home.
While I was engaged by most chapters of Dave and Bella, I started skimming over the chapters involving the ancient natives after realizing I just couldn’t read about their suffering and the things they needed to do to survive. All the bloody meat and blood dripping over one’s lips, not my thing, nor the violations. Granted, I should just have accepted that this novel was not for me, but. BUT. I am not one to easily give up and I do believe that Dave and Bella’s story, which is the heart of the novel, is important.
There are so many people who believe that going off the grid to live will be their salvation and I think that this novel speaks to them. Nature is unrepentant. She doesn’t care about your politics or your past. She just exists and she can ruin you in one quick moment. And if you’re lucky, you have a Bella existing in that moment to save you.
Bella is the heroine at eight and most interesting character in this novel. She is a conduit for the past and a character far beyond her present. She is intelligent and self-aware beyond her years. I wonder what she will become?
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Waffling on the rating