Named a Best Book of the Year by The Sunday Times (UK) * The Guardian (UK) * The Washington Independent Review of Books * Sydney Morning Herald * The Los Angeles Public Library * The Irish Independent * Real Simple *
Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize
“Carys Davies is a deft, audacious visionary.” —Téa Obreht
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.
From Frank O’Connor Award winner Carys Davies, West is a spellbinding and timeless epic-in-miniature, an eerie parable of the American frontier and an electric monument to possibility.
In her transfixing first novel, Davies (author of the story collection The Redemption of Galen Pike) tells a stark story about exploration and extinction on the American continent. Driven by wanderlust to leave his small British village, Cy Bellman sets up a mule farm in rural Pennsylvania in the early 19th century. Reports of the discovery of large fossils in the Kentucky mud, "bones... that were bleached and pale and vast, like a wrecked fleet or the parched ribs of a church roof," kindles his imagination more than his farm's jennies and jacks: "it seemed possible that, through the giant animals, a door into the mystery of the world would somehow be opened." Davies conveys the simultaneous ridiculousness and nobility of Bellman's obsession, which compels this Don Quixote in a stovepipe hat to leave his daughter to determine whether mammoth beasts still wander the nation's vast western expanse. Bellman's Sancho Panza is a teenage Shawnee orphan hired to guide the strange man in his search. Their haphazard, perilous, and occasionally dreamlike traipse is mesmerizing, as is the complex relationship that develops between the two. Though the ending may come across as formulaic, it is nonetheless dramatically satisfying and doesn't detract from this otherworldly novel.