Three Sides Water


Product Details

$17.00  $15.81
Ooligan Press
Publish Date
5.4 X 0.9 X 8.4 inches | 0.9 pounds
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About the Author

Peter Donahue is the author of the novels Clara and Merritt and Madison House, winner of the 2005 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction, and the short story collection The Cornelius Arms. He is co-editor of the 2016 edition of the memoir Seven Years on the Pacific Slope and the anthologies Reading Seattle and Reading PortlandColumbia: The Magazine of Northwest History since 2005. He teaches at Wenatchee Valley College at Omak and lives in Winthrop, Washington.


"Peter Donahue has produced a rare animal: three stories that flourish as separate novels and also succeed as a single book. He deftly details a brooding, primitive coastline, a juvenile detention center, and the modern I-5 corridor. In these landscapes are genuine souls--strange, hopeful, sometimes tragic--rendered with a remarkable honesty and care, who struggle for nobility in thoroughly compelling narratives."
--Bruce Holbert, author of Lonesome Animals, The Hour of Lead (winner of the Washington State Book Award), and Whiskey

In his new collection Three Sides Water (Ooligan Press), a triptych of "short novels," he turns his attention to the Olympic Peninsula, a region as mysterious to city-dwellers as it is scenic. Donahue's characters are idiosyncratic and his storylines intense: a young woman touring as part of a traveling magician's show in the 1920s finds herself the subject of an attempted sexual assault on Rialto Beach; a teenager confined to a juvenile prison in Port Townsend "rambles" from Fort Worden to Vietnam War-era Seattle and back again, encountering panhandlers, pedophiles and draft-dodgers along the way.

Donahue's deep understanding of our region's history coupled with his willingness to portray characters left out of traditional history books make his collective body of work a valuable contribution to literature of the Northwest.

--Alex Gallo-Brown "City Arts Magazine "

Let's shine the spotlight on Ooligan Press this week. Based at Portland State University, Ooligan is a teaching press staffed by student apprentices in the school's Book Publishing Graduate Program.

The name derives from the Chinook jargon for candlefish, once abundant in Pacific Northwest rivers, and particularly valued for its oil. The conjecture is that when ooligan was traded with tribes beyond the region, the pronunciation was corrupted to oorigan ... which eventually became the name for the territory known as "Oregon." The ooligan has such high fat content that early explorers strung wicks through the dried fish and burned them as candles.

Today, Ooligan Press sheds light on stories spawned out of the Northwest experience. And its latest book comes from Peter Donahue, a Winthrop, Wash.-based writer.

"Three Sides Water" contains three novellas, each set on a different coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, and each set in a different era, but all revolving around characters who seek to define themselves despite the constraints of circumstance. Donohue pays close attention to historical authenticity, which serves as the multi-hued warp for these richly woven stories.

'On Rialto Beach'

For his first story, "On Rialto Beach," Donahue summons the historical figure of Claude Alexander Conlin, a renowned magician in the 1920s who actually gave the beach its name.

The year is 1925, and Marguerite and her twin sister are on their annual retreat to the summer compound of their employer, Mr. Conlin, along with the rest of his company. Mr. C bills himself as the world's greatest mentalist, but after years of serving as one of his stage assistants, Marguerite understands that her boss's psychic abilities depend largely on the advance intelligence he gathers from hired sleuths, as well as mechanical deceit and the public's gullibility.

If Mr. C actually could foretell events of importance, surely he wouldn't have hired the new crew member who brutally assaults Marguerite that summer on a remote stretch of beach. With no one around to come to her aid, Marguerite tries to fend off her attacker. And afterward, she keeps the degrading episode to herself, not even confiding in her twin. But as Marguerite discovers, disappearing acts sometimes happen in real life as well as on stage.

'At Fort Worden'

The second tale, "At Fort Worden," takes place in 1970. Avery has been convicted of a Category II offense and sent to Fort Worden Treatment Center where the "better class of delinquent" serves time. He navigates a world of authority figures, bullies and unlikely friends, and learns that there is more than one way to escape imprisonment.

'Out of Shelton'

And in the third novella, "Out of Shelton," Chris leaves for Seattle to pursue the career his grandma had groomed him for since babyhood -- as a Bing Crosby impersonator. But does success lead to fulfillment? He has to grapple with whether he wants his future to be based on someone else's past.

Kudos to Donohue for crafting three immensely consuming stories, and to Ooligan Press for bringing them into print.

--Barbara Lloyd McMichael "The Daily Astorian "

Ooligan Press is an unusual publishing operation; it's a Portland, Oregon based independent publisher that draws its books from the rich literary communities of the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 2001, Ooligan is also a teaching press dedicated to the art and craft of publishing. Affiliated with Portland State University, the press is staffed by students pursuing master's degrees in an apprenticeship program under the guidance of a core faculty of publishing professionals. This gives the press a continual sense of transformation and rebirth as the people involved with it change so frequently. I've made a number of literary discoveries through Ooligan's diverse and very literate offerings.

I am really pleased that Ooligan decided to send me Peter Donahue's unusual collection called Three Sides Water. The book is a collection of three short novels that I was immediately drawn to. And once I started reading the first novel, I was completely hooked. Donahue has been writing about the Olympic peninsula of Washington for some time. While he no longer lives there, clearly the area west and north of Seattle has captivated his imagination. Three Sides Water follows the construct of a peninsula itself - three stories surrounded by the space beyond. Each of the book's short novels is about young characters, all in very different time periods, learning what it means to take responsibility for their own lives, and all of them must make decisions that will have long lasting consequences for themselves and others in their lives.

In his writing, Donahue literally inhabits the landscape of the far northwestern edge of our country with these stories. There's a certain exoticism he brings us, with a careful eye and precise descriptive language that never gets in the way of the stories he is telling. His characters are all very different but share a common desire to become "something" - whether it is more, or better, or simply the desire to become an authentic self. The Pacific Northwest's Olympic Peninsula is a itself a dramatic element, within which his compelling characters do what they must to establish the arcs of their lives, all in different ways and with different means, but all operating from the deepest part of their selves. The stories share common traits but are set in completely different time periods and tell very different tales, making this collection great fun to read.

Peter Donahue has published two full length novels, Clara and Merritt and Madison House (winner of the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction), as well as a collection of short stories, The Cornelius Arms. He is the co-editor of two literary anthologies, Reading Seattle and Reading Portland, and of Seven Years on the Pacific Slope, a 1914 memoir set in Washington's Methow Valley. Since 2005, he has written the Retrospective Review column on Northwest literature for Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, published by the Washington State Historical Society. Donahue teaches at Wenatchee Valley College in Omak, a small rural campus in North-Central Washington. More about Peter Donahue and his work can be found at his website here. And learn about the interesting Ooligan Press at its website here.

Peter Donahue is a fine story teller and an excellent interviewee as well. Thanks to him and to Ooligan for this excellent book.