REVIEW: West, Carys Davis

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

When Cy Bellman, American settler and widowed father of Bess, reads in the newspaper that huge ancient bones have been discovered in a Kentucky swamp, he leaves his small Pennsylvania farm and young daughter to find out if the rumours are true: that the giant monsters are still alive, and roam the uncharted wilderness beyond the Mississippi River. West is the story of Bellman's journey and of Bess, waiting at home for her father to return. 

How can such a short book have so much emotional impact? Carys Davis’ West comes in at a mere 160 pages and reading it, it feels as though she made use of every single word and employed each one of them in the exact right way for the book to deliver on what it aimed for. Each and every word is precise and impactful and turns these characters on pieces of paper into vivid human beings.
These people ring true thanks mostly to Davis’ examinations of perception - how people see things (or their relationships with other people) vs. how they actually are; and it is easy to see how these misinterpretations play a key role in both the characters’ arcs, and in real life. Julie thinks that Elmer is interested in her romantically; Bellman misreads the intentions of Old Woman from a Distance whilst continuously dismissing him, degrading him and taking advantage of him (whilst believing that he is doing nothing of the sort); and he believes, that far to the west, monsters roam.
It is interesting what the power of foresight has on the reader in relation to the goals of the characters, as we know right from the start that no monstrous figures, akin to dinosaurs or wooly mammoths, have existed in the mainland United States in the last - what? 60 million? years. So the reader knows, no matter how much Cy Bellman wants them to exist - or how much the reader, in turn, wants them to as well - that he will never achieve his goal of finding traces of them.
You would think it would be boring or tiresome to read the tale of a journey when you already are pretty certain of its conclusion, I certainly did before I began, but for Carys Davis’ West that is certainly not the case. For it is in the monotony of the days, the sprawling sense of the American west, and the inner workings of each character's mind where this novel is really told.
And I know it won’t be long before I buy myself a fancy hat and pick up this book again.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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