Come West and See by Maxim Loskutoff (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018).
It is election season in America again, which affords the country another unsettling visual and numerical representation of just how deeply and irreparably we seem to be divided. Each race is accompanied by graphs, percentages, and primary-colored maps—first the counties, then the districts, the states, and finally America as a whole: slim strips of blue lining the coasts, wrapping themselves around square red slabs stacked in the center; fatty hunks of purple or pink marbling the mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes region, the tip of Maine. We analyze, we evaluate. And then there are the think pieces and profiles, those obligatory looks at the other side that ask us, implore us to take a step back and see life through lenses tinted the other color, to take away the animosity and empathize.
But most of us have already chosen our sides. We wear them on our bumper stickers and social media profiles, but these days our allegiances go deeper. For those of us who find it hard enough to share a meal or watch a football game with a single family member who votes the other way, it’s easy to write off large swaths of the country—to look at the maps and the think pieces and conclude that we’re wasting our time. Which makes books like Maxim Loskutoff’s Come West and See all the more important.The twelve stories of this debut collection take us into that amorphous red mass of mid- to western America, giving us a deep look at characters from rural Idaho and Montana to suburban Denver, as far east as lakeside Michigan, and as far west as the hot springs of central Oregon. There are compassionate and complex portrayals of the economically debilitated, and there are haunting accounts of the devastating consequences of loneliness. In prose both forceful and forgiving, Come West and See confronts some of the most contentious issues of our time, and above all, the anger that binds us together and tears us apart.
Though not all of the stories in Come West and See are linked, the narrative bond is the ascension and spread of the Redoubt, a wildlife refuge taken over by mutinous Constitutionalists displeased with the overreach of the federal government. The Redoubt first appears in the third story of the collection, “Daddy Swore an Oath,” told from the perspective of Lila, whose husband Briar has left her alone with their two children in order to join up with the group in eastern Oregon. Lila struggles with competing instincts: she’s angry with her husband for choosing his cause over his family, and yet she admires him for the strength of his convictions. In recalling the path that led Briar to leave her family for the Redoubt, Lila tells a tale familiar to many a spouse today:
Everything on the news made Briar furious. She’d had to
marshal their dinner conversations like a talk show host,
cars and sports, keep it bland and chirpy, or else he’d explode
and spend an hour on Muslim sleeper cells along the East Coast,
cartels controlling the border, or Sharia law on university campuses.
It wasn’t about the Drummonds, and their cattle lands, not really.
He was fighting a world that had changed out from underneath him.