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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Trask by Don Berry

Trask by Don Berry. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 2004 (Copyright 1960 by Don Berry and first published by Viking Press). ISBN: 0-87071-023-0

Wow! That was my reaction to this book. Especially the dramatically charged ending. Anyone who thinks of him or herself as a true native of the Pacific Northwest owes it to him or herself to read this book. It is truly a tour-de-force, a powerful narrative that will make a powerful impression.

The story is about mountain man Elbridge Trask, living in the Clatsop area in the 1840's, but with the typical mountain man hunger for even wilder, less settled areas. He plans a trip down the coast to the area inhabited by the wild and unfriendly natives, the “Killamooks” as Tillamook was typically spelled in those early years. Later, after the events described in the novel, Trask did indeed lead a group of white settlers to the area. A prominent river in the area is named for him, and when my great grandfather and his family first came to the Tillamook area in the early 1890's they initially settled on a place “up the Trask River.”

But I digress. The real story is the inner life of Elbridge Trask, as so powerfully imagined by Don Berry. Trask is a man who barely knows his own mind at times, is unsure of what he wants, at least at a conscious level, but whose heart leads him enexorably onward towards his fate. While at times beset by doubts and inner turmoil, he never hesitates when making the most crucial decisions, and at times, speaks almost without thinking, yet expressing his deepest desires.

Trask's relationship with his partners in travel, two Clatsop Indians, one young and untested, the other a tamanawis man, a shaman, I suppose you might say, although that word is not used by Berry. Rather, a tamanawis man is one who has visions or dreams of a supernatural nature. Trask is too hard-headed to believe in such things, but is affected by them all the same. His initial mistrust of Charley Kehwa is eventually replaced by respect and friendship.

Berry followed Trask with two more novels, Moontrap and To Build a Ship, the three of which according to Jeff Baker in the book's introduction, “form a loose trilogy that tells the story of our state's origins better than any history book.” Those two books are now on my “to read” list as well. This first volume, Trask, is highly recommended.


  • I was wandering around in the library and this title jumped out at me because I know right where Trask Mountain is, I hunt near there. After reading you're review I'm even more excited to read it, I have that hunger for wilder less settled areas.

    By Anonymous Julie, at 4:46 PM  

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