When this slender little novel came in my colleagues all raised an eyebrow, knowing i’m partial to a Western. And Western this is, with all the bits I like best about the genre. Breathless, sometimes self-destructive pursuit of ideas, maps with blank spots, romantic landscapes and lives in peril.When he hears reports of enormous bones unearthed in Kentucky, Cyrus Bellman leaves his Pennsylvanian smallholding with a wave from his daughter and derision from his sister, and a brand-new stovepipe hat to cut a more imposing figure among the unknown Indian tribes of the interior. Without really knowing why, he wants to see if the giant creatures still roam the uncharted frontier. His daughter, Bess, waits with her short-tempered Aunt for news and tries to negotiate the unwelcome attentions of predatory men who can sense her unprotected adolescence.
Its a short book, being only 148 pages, and the pacing had me reading the whole thing in about 2 sittings – breathlessly, toward the end, when the action ramps up and Bess finally discovers how her father’s journey played out. Carys Davies’ previous book is a collection called The Travellers and Other Stories, and she is very good at constructing a narrative with brevity and precision. It is sensitive, clean writing with a desolate Gothic tint, reminding me of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins and The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage.