West

Carys Davies. Scribner, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7934-1
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. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (Apr.)

This review has been corrected; an earlier version had character inaccuracies.

Reviewed on: 02/19/2018
Release date: 04/24/2018
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-68168-986-9
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