Review of Carys Davies’ West

If you want a satisfying and thoughtful read that you can inhale in one afternoon, this is the book for you. In this slim novel (150 pages!), Davies explores the limits on one’s life and how best to live it. Her narrative centers on Cy Bellman, a settler, who is caught in his desire to go West to see if ancient creatures like the wooly mammoth still exist; Bess, his ten year old daughter who he leaves behind; and Old Woman From a Distance, a Native American boy he hires to take him west. All three are trapped by their circumstances and have to best negotiate their beliefs and choices despite the prevailing wisdom around them, as Bellman reflects, “You had so many ways of deciding which way to live your life. It made his head spin to think of them” (113). It reminds me of the proverb about not leaning on our own understanding; almost all of the characters seem so sure about the world, but as Davies reminds us, there is much we do not know or understand. However, her message does not advocate the second part of the proverb to trust in the Lord. West is where god and the Great Spirit are more fallible than man; we are here to do the best we can with our limited understanding.

This novel could easily be over 400 pages had it been written by somebody else– the atmosphere, setting, characterization– all warrant a book of that length. It is a testament to Davies’ prodigious talent to distill a story of such scope to so few pages and not have the reader feel like they are missing anything.

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