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Chasing shadows in the Wild West

I have a soft spot for anything Wild West (yes, I did watch a fair bit of The Little House on the Prairie as a kid), so when West by Carys Davies came along I wasn’t hard to convince. It’s the short story of widower Cy Bellman who sets out from Pennsylvania in 1815 to find rumoured gigantic beasts after reading about the discovery of ancient bones in a newspaper. Left behind, in the care of strict Aunt Julia, is his 10-year-old daughter Bess. Like many a mid-life crisis, this one doesn’t end well.

A mixture of stupidity, stubbornness, mid-life crisis and mourning, propels Bellman out on his adventure. He has never properly faced the loss of his wife Elise; running away seems a tempting solution. Never mind his defenceless daughter, this is something he just has to do.

In the company of a young Native American boy with the comically lame name Old Woman From A Distance, Bellman sets out to chase shadows. Meanwhile, back home opportunists fill the vacuum. Old Woman Form A Distance has his own scores to settle with the white men that took his family’s land and killed his sister, but it won’t happen in the way you’d expect.

West is a clever mixture of comical and sad; a melancholy portrait of a not-so-clever man, ‘…more of a worrier than a warrior…’, who blindly follows a foolish dream.

West by Carys Davies is published by Granta, 149 pages.

If you like this book, you might also like A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler.

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