Monday, February 17, 2020

West - Carys Davies

Summary: When widowed mule breeder Cy Bellman reads in the newspaper that colossal ancient bones have been discovered in the salty Kentucky mud, he sets out from his small Pennsylvania farm to see for himself if the rumors are true: that the giant monsters are still alive and roam the uncharted wilderness beyond the Mississippi River. Promising to write and to return in two years, he leaves behind his only daughter, Bess, to the tender mercies of his taciturn sister and heads west.

With only a barnyard full of miserable animals and her dead mother’s gold ring to call her own, Bess, unprotected and approaching womanhood, fills lonely days tracing her father’s route on maps at the subscription library and waiting for his letters to arrive. Bellman, meanwhile, wanders farther and farther from home, across harsh and alien landscapes, in reckless pursuit of the unknown. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  I must admit that I don’t read a lot of westerns. I used to love the Storm Testament series when I was in junior high and high school. They were written by a Utah-based author, Lee Nelson, and although I’m not from Utah, my grandparents lived there and when we would go visit them and stay for a week in the summer I would raid their basement bookshelves (even back then I was reading All The Things) and just devoured that series. When they passed away, I took all of those books for my own bookshelves and I look back at them with fond memories. A few years ago, I inadvertently met Lee Nelson’s daughter and I have to tell you, I was fangirling majorly! I was trying to keep my cool and still get an invitation to meet her dad, but I never quite got around to asking. Oh, the missed opportunities.

When I saw this little book I decided to check it out. It is written like a Western, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve always been interested in books that do a good job creating a time and place, and I feel like this book did just that. I could feel the loneliness of the isolated countryside, and the simplicity of life and the complexity to pull off living during this time. The writing style was really unique. It was written third person, but the omniscient feeling was almost disconnected. This made for a very beautifully rendered reading that felt like both the simplicity and complexity of Western life I described above. There is an art to being able to achieve both things at once—both simplicity of writing and a depth of meaning, and Davies does just that. It is also a rather short book, and yet a lot was achieved in that short little span. Again, sometimes it doesn’t take a whole ton of words to get a whole ton of things said.

I really enjoyed the story in this book. I felt like it had an almost fantastical feel to it, although obviously there was not fantasy. I could imagine what this adventurer was thinking of when he headed off to find huge beasts whose bones had been discovered, and I can’t help but think that to him, he would have felt this same feeling of excitement and magic that Davies conveyed to the reader when he set off to see if he could find these unbelievable animals. He was able to capture so well the feeling of excitement and discovery that one would have felt while crossing into unknown territory. That was one of the things I enjoyed about this book, actually, is that it did a good job of capturing the wonder and excitement of discovery in a vastly uncharted land. Those lands still exist today, but those of us who will experience actual physical exploration of them are very few as opposed to those who lived back in the time of new land and new territory.

This story had some really sad elements in it, and they were resolved in interesting ways. Davies pulled no punches when it came to her characters, and it paid off. I feel like I have a natural inclination to wanting things to work out the way I think they should at the end of a book, and yet an author like Davies can give the characters a more natural character arc that works and makes sense in the end.

A short little book that packs a lot of story and interest in just a few pages, I recommend this book to fiction readers who enjoy a good story with a highly developed time and place. I enjoyed it and I think that other readers will find it interesting and a good read as well.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There are some limited incidences of sexual abuse without a lot of intense description, but it still may be triggering.

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