The Forest and the Trees: Come West and See by Maxim Loskutoff

Katie Sticca
| Reviews


The two stories that conclude the book take place after the Redoubt conflict has ended, and both tell very different stories of love in the face of devastation, appalling in their own ways. The common thread between the worlds of “Harvest” and “Redoubt” is the agonizing, indefatigable strength of its young women.

The idea of strong women comes up with frequency throughout Come West and See, especially when the women are viewed through the eyes of their self-aware men, struggling with feelings of inadequacy. In “End Times,” a couple drives their injured pet wolf across the Midwest to get veterinary help. The male narrator tries his best but is painfully aware of his own shortcomings: “Elli exhaled, long and slow, and I pictured myself as a chart inside her head. Two sides: good and bad, with scraps of conversation, things I’d done, memories, posted on either side. The bad side just kept filling up.”

In several stories, the men are literally weakened by their love of their women: their earlobes, their breasts, or their motherhood. In a touching display of both sensitivity and masculinity, the narrator of “Stay Here” claims: “Sometimes I found her so beautiful I wanted to kill the whole world.” The women in these stories have no choice but to take charge, to be the stronger of the pair, regardless of their readiness. In “Daddy Swore an Oath,” Lila, with increasing dread, notes that she “felt like she was on the brink of discovering how strong she was, but she didn’t want to.” No matter—she does anyway.

The greatest strength of Come West and See is the daring reach of the writer’s empathetic eye. Though many of his characters are admirable, Loskutoff is capable of making the reader feel for some truly bizarre, at times reprehensible, people. In “Come Down to the Water,” a childhood friend is complicit in a heartless prank, but his pitiful loneliness and self-consciousness give him more dimension than even he thinks he deserves. A sociopathic horse-killing child is loathed, but ultimately loved, by her mother in the chilling “We’re in this Together You Know, God.” And the first story of the collection, “The Dancing Bear,” is so tragically strange and beautiful that any description would be in danger of spoiling it.

The empathy in this collection goes beyond people, extending itself to the wildlife and the terrain of the West, even to the beetle-ravaged pine trees of Colorado. In prose that covers an impressive array of voices, Loskutoff doles out compelling details with crack precision, bringing the reader both inside the world of the story and the larger world of the West. These flawed, complicated characters contain multitudes, like the region itself. They are reason enough to stand back from the electoral maps and the think pieces and take the invitation of Loskutoff, to “come west and see.” For as Les says in “Too Much Love,” preceding his doomed descent into the heart of the Redoubt, “There are a lot of ways left to live.”

Katie Sticca is the managing editor of Salamander. She received her MFA from Emerson College, and lives in Boston.

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