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Book Notes: ‘Train Dreams’ makes local stop

Does “Train Dreams” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18), the novella by National Book Award winner Denis Johnson, have particular local interest?

Well, let me put it this way. The book’s first sentence is: “In the summer of 1917, Robert Grainier took part in an attempt on the life of a Chinese laborer caught, or anyway accused of, stealing from the company stores of the Spokane International Railway in the Idaho Panhandle.”

Then the rest of this haunting and beautifully written book follows the story of Grainier, a logger, teamster and railroad laborer from Bonners Ferry and the “Moyea” River vicinity (that’s how Johnson spells Moyie).

This gem of a novella is filled with references to Spokane, Sandpoint, Wallace and the Kootenai River. It ranges in era from about 1900 through the 1930s and is rich with local historical lore. Johnson, who won the 2007 National Book Award for “Tree of Smoke,” lives at least part of the year near Bonners Ferry.

However, this story is fictional, with a dreamlike quality, reflected in the title. Grainier is one of the hard-laboring men who built the Inland Northwest. His life has been beset by tragedy and travail.

Yet the book is also funny in a wry way. One of the stories within the novella begins with this utterly intriguing sentence: “As his last job for that year, Grainier agreed to transport a man from Meadow Creek to Bonners who had actually been shot by his own dog.”

You’ll just have to read it to find out how.

“Train Dreams” was first published in 2002 in the Paris Review and was released for the first time in hardcover in September. It takes only an evening or two to read, but the powerful images will stick with you a long time.

An Evison alert

Speaking of authors who evoke the historical Northwest, Jonathan Evison has been booked into Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main, at 2 p.m. Feb. 25.

He’ll read from his bestselling novel, “West of Here” (Algonquin, $24.95), which is about the mythical Port Bonita on the Olympic Peninsula. One part of the narrative takes place in the rough-and-tumble 1890s, another part takes place in the present.

The big cast of characters includes explorers, prostitutes, Klallam Indians and a failed accountant. This book clearly captured the imagination of the Northwest and the rest of the country. It won the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Award this year and made it into Amazon’s Top 100.

“West of Here” will come out in paperback, on Jan. 31, in plenty of time for the Auntie’s reading.