MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews West by Carys Davies

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

West by Carys Davies X
West by Carys Davies
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 160 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 128 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


In the early 19th century, a man journeys into the uncharted American West in search of colossal creatures and a renewed sense of wonder.

After the untimely death of his wife, Pennsylvanian mule breeder John Cyrus Bellman becomes obsessed by a newspaper article reporting the discovery of "monstrous bones" in the wilderness that are "bleached and pale and vast, like a wrecked fleet or the parched ribs of a church roof." Cy dreams of setting eyes on these mammoth creatures that possibly still roam the uncharted American frontier. What spurs him on is not glory or repute, but the chance that there exist things yet unseen. With a promise to return in two years, he leaves his farm and ten-year-old daughter Bess under the care of his unapproving sister, and journeys West. As Cy travels further away from civilization with the guidance of a Shawnee boy named Old Woman From A Distance, Bess fills her lonely days tracing her father's progress in library maps, eagerly awaiting his return.

While West is a slim novel, it rarely feels slight. The search for the unknown is the thematic backbone here and Davies has done well to present Cy's ambition as both noble quest and fool's errand. Friends and neighbors deem his journey to be a "lunatic adventure" and his own sister openly numbers him "among the lost and the mad." But as consumers of fiction steeped in the age-old tradition of quest stories, we are seemingly predisposed to root for the underdog adventurer who is ridiculed and mocked but who, against all odds, usually attains his Holy Grail in the end. As such, we begin the journey with Cy sharing Bess's rose-tinted regard for her father as "grand and purposeful [...] intelligent and romantic," whose mission "made him different from other people."

What Davies has deftly exposed in this fast-paced novella is the fallout of such single-minded ambitions where loved ones become collateral in even the most admirable of selfish pursuits. While Cy is off seeking enlightenment in the wilderness, Bess is left fatherless and exposed to hometown dangers. Would a historic discovery absolve an absent parent and atone for leaving a young child unguarded? While she sets up such loaded questions, Davies thankfully never doles out any simplistic, didactic truths.

Through the sullen Shawnee boy, Davies also investigates a different kind of journey to the West. In Cy's employment, this ambitious young man slowly acquires an appetite for Western materialism and personal wealth, even if it is limited to the currency of knickknacks and scraps of clothing Cy pays him in. The fellow travelers form an unusual bond during their hardships on the road. The unforgiving land and weather conditions forces them to depend on each other, yet without a shared language they are never able to get to know one another.

There was perhaps an opportunity for West to be a weightier, more immersive book. As such its brevity never thoroughly explores the sheer scale and vastness of Cy's expedition across America. Too much of the journey is glossed over in stark, unadorned sentences which at times robs the alien terrain of its sublime beauty. Furthermore, the constant flitting between the two main narratives in such a confined space doesn't allow for much more than an acquaintanceship with the characters. As it is, this novella is almost parable-like in its concise clarity but complex and ambiguous enough to never be a simple moral tale.

Reviewed by Dean Muscat

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2018, and has been updated for the May 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Children of the Land
    Children of the Land
    by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
    In this exquisitely crafted memoir, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo describes coming of age as a young ...
  • Book Jacket: A Good Neighborhood
    A Good Neighborhood
    by Therese Anne Fowler
    After fictionalized biographies of Zelda Fitzgerald (Z, 2013) and Alva Vanderbilt (A Well-Behaved ...
  • Book Jacket: Little Gods
    Little Gods
    by Meng Jin
    Little Gods, Meng Jin's intricate, emotionally intelligent debut, opens with a scene in which ...
  • Book Jacket: The Truants
    The Truants
    by Kate Weinberg
    The Truants opens with Jess Walker, a first-year university student in Norfolk, England, ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Small Days and Nights
    by Tishani Doshi

    A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters, set against the backdrop of modern India.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Cartier's Hope
    by M. J. Rose

    A Gilded Age gem of ambition & betrayal from the author of New York Times bestseller, Tiffany Blues.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins

"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Lost Family

The Lost Family
by Libby Copeland

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A F I Need I A F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.