West

Written by Carys Davies

This slim volume houses a simple “journey” plot within an incredibly nuanced presentation. Sometime after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, widower Cyrus Bellman comes across an article about gigantic bones found in Kentucky. Obsessed with discovering the live animals he is certain still roam in the great wilderness of the Northwest, he leaves behind his mule farm and ten-year-old daughter, setting out on the route taken by the expedition, picking up a Native American guide along the way. Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, Bellman’s daughter awaits his return as unsettling events unfold. More than one man begins formulating dreadful designs against the child, beneath the very nose of the oblivious aunt to whose care she has been entrusted. Will Bellman survive to return, and if he does, will it be in time?

Davies drips pathos from the very first pages: the modern reader already knows the Kentucky bones are fossil remnants of Ice Age megafauna that haven’t walked the earth for millennia—Bellman’s quest is futile, all that occurs afterwards needless and avoidable. The characterization here, from the primary to the minor, is superb, a perfect example of how to craft beings that come to life on the page through show, not tell. Immersion in these characters’ perceptions of each other and their world is complete. This novella has a fantastic quality that can make it read like a fable; it is highly imaginative, and the author’s capacity with language is enviable. In sum: an immensely satisfying way to spend an hour or two, a very promising debut, and definitely an author to watch.