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And West Is West

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Winner of the prestigious PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, And West Is West is an inspired novel about two young people who learn, the hard way, about the devastating power of new technology to isolate us from the consequences of our actions.

When Jessica, a young Air Force drone pilot in Nevada, is tasked with launching a missile against a suspected terrorist halfway across the world, she realizes that though women and children are in the crosshairs of her screen, she has no choice but to follow orders. Ethan, a young Wall Street quant, is involved in a more bloodless connection to war when he develops an algorithm that enables his company’s clients to profit by exploiting the international financial instability caused by exactly this kind of antiterrorist strike. These two are only minor players, but their actions have global implications that tear lives apart--including their own. When Jessica finds herself discharged from the service and Ethan makes an error that costs him his job, both find themselves adrift, cast out by a corrupt system and forced to take the blame for decisions they did not make.

In And West Is West, Ron Childress has crafted a powerful, politically charged, and terrifyingly real scenario that takes readers into the lives of characters living in different worlds yet bound together by forces beyond their control.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published October 13, 2015

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Ron Childress

3 books17 followers

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5 stars
74 (11%)
4 stars
254 (39%)
3 stars
237 (36%)
2 stars
56 (8%)
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22 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 95 reviews
282 reviews
April 12, 2015
You know how you pick up a book you've never heard of, by a writer you've never read, and flip through and read few paragraphs here and there? And after doing that, with some books you say "no" right away, others you decide to give a chance, but some are just "yes"? This is the 3rd category. Crisp, absorbing, well written, interesting, strong characters, smartly crafted plot, and best of all, an ending that's not all tied up into a neat package. I think some people might find it dark and the end frustrating, but hey, welcome to the world. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Debbie.
1,751 reviews95 followers
October 12, 2015
I really, really liked this book. There were two conspiracies going on here. One was in the government spector and one was in the private spector. It was interesting to see how both were handled and how both worked out. Of course, this was fiction, but then again was it?

The story definitely kept me fascinated as, of course, there were other smaller stories going on as well. The author did a great job holding my attention and in writing a great story. I was so engrossed in it that before I knew it, I was done and it was 3:30 in the morning. I was still thinking it was around 1:30. That's just occupied I was by this story. The characters, while mostly a little quirky, definitely held my attention as well.

I say kudos to Ron Childress for a job well done. Great book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

Thanks Algonquin Books and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I loved it!
Profile Image for Kelley.
637 reviews115 followers
March 4, 2016
ARC received courtesy of Goodreads.com giveaway

Such a depressing story...All of the characters have terrible things befall them. Ethan devises algorithms for a huge bank to use that take advantage to world events to trade currencies and make money from the horrible misfortunes of others. Jessica is a drone pilot. Without have actual eyes on her targets, she is told from her superiors when to shoot the missiles. When things go bad for both of them at those jobs, they are both set adrift in life. Neither knows how to "be" without their careers. The people that cross paths with these characters all have such deep issues that Jessica and Ethan become part of the others' lives.

I had never read a PEN/Bellweather Price winner before. This prize is given for socially engaged fiction. It took me until the last 20ish pages to figure out why this book won the prize. However, it is clear to me that the novel is very deserving.
Profile Image for Maureen.
634 reviews
January 25, 2016
This book is a very well written character study. Oftentimes there are books that you know the author has simply written to fulfill a certain page limit- seems like 300 pages is the magic number. Usually I finish those books and think "well that last 50 or 60 pages were useless". And West is West is just the opposite of that scenario - I would have been happy to have continued reading another 100 pages of this book. I think the added length would have aided the plot which gets lost a bit in the excellent character development. However, the look at both big banking and military drone activity was well done- I just would have liked a bit more. Very good book- would recommend.
Profile Image for Mike Cuthbert.
392 reviews5 followers
June 5, 2015
Ostensibly about drone tactics and the people who pilot them, this novel quickly turns on the moral question and challenge of shooting at long range at blurry targets involving split-second decisions on whether targets are tactical or “collateral damage.” It also asks the questions anyone might ask: how often does the Army fess up to decisions that were wrong, in which civilians got blown away by mistake. In this case, we are confronted with a talented female pilot, Jessica, who is removed from her job because she knows the truth about the Yarisi shoot in which she followed orders and destroyed innocent lives. The Air Force, for which she works, does not want information about the mistake to get out and they effectively remove her from her position and make sure she tells nobody about it. Unfortunately, she has already written about it to her father, a convict, and prison officials have flagged her letter as a danger to national security. In the meantime, on the other side of the plot, a young Wall Street “quant” named Ethan has developed an algorithm that enable his firm to capitalize on instability caused by drone strikes by instantaneously manipulating the stock market prices of key weapons and systems affected by strikes. His algorithm appears to have caused a mistaken manipulation that costs his firm millions and he finds himself as out as Jessica. Childress uses Jessica’s imprisoned father, Don, as a sort of moral amanuensis—because he’s a felon he cannot correspond directly with Jessica and because he’s a felon she should not have told him about the Yarisi shoot but they manage to keep in touch through a system of blind drops and coded addresses and to inform us readers what’s going on. It’s a clever device that most likely would not work in the real world, but she’s so earnest that we want it to succeed. So we have two systems, one algorithmic, one tactical, based on computers making decisions in which the computers are manipulated so that their decisions are questionable. And we have the very real problem of drone pilots making fatal decisions. One wonders how far we are from disaster in both worlds. This is, hesitation about the convict father’s role aside, a compelling summer read. It won’t make you like Wall Street or the Killer Forces that manipulate the drones any better, but you will have a decent read.
Profile Image for Michael Martz.
850 reviews19 followers
December 13, 2016
And West is West is an interesting, serious, well-written, thought-provoking novel. 2 main characters facing separate troubling situations in their lives are followed in their respective searches for meaning and redemption.

Jessica, the more sympathetic character of the 2, was a 'drone pilot' who was involved in a strike that didn't turn out perfectly, ends up getting separated from the service, and walks out of a medical facility where she's being evaluated to lose herself and the rest of the world. Ethan is a financial 'quant' whiz who loses his job due to what he thinks was sabotage by his boss, at the same time his complicated romantic life becomes much sadder and more complicated.

Although it sometimes feels like you're reading 2 individual novels, intertwined, the characters do intersect (you get some hints along the way). I thought the writing was excellent, the stories were well crafted, the characters were developed nicely (although 2/3 of them I didn't really care for....), the dialogue was fine and the conclusion was satisfactory.

All told, it's a fine novel about how people respond to big changes in their lives. Nicely done, not upbeat by any means but definitely worthwhile reading.
601 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2017
I can't remember why I chose to read this book. It was on my Goodreads list of to read books and I decided to start finishing them off. I must have picked it from a recommended for me by Goodreads. Anyway, it was a good read, pardon the pun. The author is a winner of the Bellwether Prize, a foundation setup by Barbara Kingsolver to reward writers of socially engaged fiction. This story brings two separate characters and stories into a kind of focus that makes the reader see tough, conscience shaking situations brought upon those characters and how they proceed at those times. A very complicated relation is drawn through the characters and involves others too who also have to react to their circumstances. It is hard to describe without ruining the story for future readers. I can only say that a cloudy picture takes more shape as the tale develops and goes to a resolution which is not spectacular but very human. If given the choice to read it again only knowing the satisfaction I feel now, I would surely read it. I hope that is a satisfactory review for you and if you choose to read it, I hope you feel about it as I do.
Profile Image for Teresa.
661 reviews
February 27, 2016
Isn't it wonderful to read a book that has a perfect ending? This is one of those books.

I was prompted to read this as Ron Childress is one of the authors who will be attending the 2016 Gaithersburg Book Festival. I try to read as many selections as I can before the festival. There are so many interesting authors in attendance (82 confirmed so far this year!) that I have a hard time deciding which ones I plan to hear speak. This is an excellent debut novel ~ a fast-paced, thought provoking book.

"And West Is West" is an original contemporary book depicting the use of technology & the ethics and consequences of users' actions. Jessica is a young Air Force drone pilot in Nevada and Ethan works on Wall Street developing algorithms which create profits for his company during periods of unexpected financial instability in certain parts of the world (think terrorism & political unrest.) Timely topics include today's preference for electronic communication, isolation, lack of social engagement, modern relationships, fear of commitment, the current job market, electronic footprints, government surveillance, death, drugs, family, etc. Do you have to compromise your ethics to achieve upward mobility? Does electronic anonymity remove culpability? How much do we really know about one another and who can you trust? The secondary characters are interesting and serve a narrative purpose. The pacing is great, the plot is never predictable and the final scene is truly memorable.

Childress won the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. "The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." (http://www.pen.org/content/penbellwet...)

Avoid reading reviews to prevent seeing spoilers.

When googling the title, I discovered that it comes from a Rudyard Kipling poem, "The Ballad of East and West." Here are the last lines:

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!"

High 4 stars.

Profile Image for Amy.
741 reviews28 followers
November 8, 2015

Beautiful cover and topical themes-- millennials caught in the cross-fire of war and economics-- drew me to this novel. Jessica is an Air Force drone pilot in Nevada. She drops bombs on terrorists, sometimes killing civilians in the process. Author Ron Childress writes: “Jessica had always charted her long-term future like a psychic predicting happiness: a disciplined twenty years would culminate in a military pension and return her to her beachside hometown in Florida.” Wall Street analyst Ethan works on an algorithm to allow his company to profit from terrorist activities. Childress writes: “This is what makes him useful to UIB: his combination of technical skill and real-world imagination, his ability to see connections that neither the pure programmer nor the pure trader is likely to see. He binges on coffee and Provigil to keep alert.” The global ramifications for both Jessica and Ethan prove intense, catastrophic and scary. In this debut novel, author Ron Childress convincingly writes about the military, the financial world and today’s millennials.

This is the first novel by Childress who left the tech marketing agency he founded with his wife in 2000 to pursue a writing career. He’d earned his bachelors, masters and PhD in literature. Before founding the company he worked as a communications manager. I appreciate this bio because many of us with English degrees and aspirations to write novels or memoirs work in communications.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin.

Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,445 reviews191 followers
September 23, 2016
3.5 stars. "And West is West" is a thought-provoking debut novel by Ron Childress. In this day and age, wars are often fought from way off of the battlefield. Jessica is in the military and flies drones used on the battlefields of the Middle East from a safe stateside location. Ethan has found a way to harness political instability which in turn feeds into financial instability to make money hand over foot for his company. This novel explores ethics in the modern age where technology often blurs the lines.

This was such an interesting novel! The two main characters represent two powerful ideas in this modern world. Jessica is fighting a war from the other side of the world. She realizes that war waging in this way totally depersonalizes everything for her. She wonders if she is doing the right thing, especially because she's not on the ground. Much of her part of the book focuses on her struggle with what it means to be a world away from the chaos she is causing. Ethan likes making money but has his own struggle in the way that he's doing it. It was so interesting to see how the author showed changes in both characters throughout the book.

I really like when books leave you thinking long after you've closed the book. I especially like grappling with the idea of ethics, which this book definitely grapples with. The writing of the book is fairly even but could stand to be slimmed down in some parts of the story but overall it flows nicely.
Profile Image for Greg.
113 reviews6 followers
August 20, 2015
*I received this book for free from the publisher and am providing an honest review*

So this book won the "PEN / Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction", but I felt that the "socially engaged" part that was advertised (drone strikes, making money from terrorist strikes) was more of a background setting for the stories rather than the focus. One of the characters, the drone pilot, does develop some moral feelings regarding her role but they are mostly centered around the accidental casualties associated with it, rather than the deed itself. The other main character really doesn't have any moral issues at all with his role in making money from people dying.

That being said, I found the book interesting and the characters engaging. Definitely captivating enough for me to think about it when I wasn't reading it, and to make me want to get back to it as soon as possible. I doubt that I will be as enthralled with it in the future as Barbara Kingsolver apparently is in her blurb on the front cover.

Overall, good characters, decent story, not as socially engaged as advertised.
Profile Image for Leijette.
147 reviews9 followers
January 19, 2016
I had high hopes for this novel at the beginning, and by the end I was a little disappointed, tbh. The fact that it was blurbed by my favorite author is really what persuaded me to pick it up, and it had great potential at the beginning. This is definitely about societal and political issues that are important today, and I was interested in the characters right away, but the two story lines never really came together for me - it seemed like it should have been two separate books entirely with each expanded into more of a story, and the potential plotlines of each character that were set up in the earlier parts of the book just never paid off, in my opinion. I feel like maybe the central plot was driven into a corner that the author couldn't figure out how to back away from, or something? Anyway, there was some really good writing, and I would consider reading future books by this author, but the conclusion(s) for this one ultimately just didn't work for me.
September 17, 2016
This is better than your average mystery story because the plot is more complex, the situations are more interesting, and the characters are better developed. Jessica is a AF drone pilot who hesitates in firing her missiles to protect civilian lives and then writes about it to her father in prison. Ethan is a programmer who writes a stock trading program for his bank that assesses the impact of international actions (e.g. drone strikes) on the stock market. His girlfriend Zoe is troubled by a dysfunctional family. All three of them have their lives disrupted when they lose their positions and Jessica and Ethan end up being hunted and harassed by the FBI. They don’t respond like heroic characters in a mystery story but that is part of the appeal. This was slow moving at times but the effort was worth it because of the interesting plot and characters. I think I will read another of his books.
Profile Image for zespri.
604 reviews8 followers
February 7, 2016
This was a great book, i really enjoyed it and it made for some interesting discussions with my husband when he asked for a short precis of the story.

As the blurb says on the back, "it offers an unsettling examination of the ways technology can isolate us from the consequences of our actions" - both main characters have a career in institutions which isolate them from the general public. One in the world of high finance, the other flying strike drones.

February 4, 2016
A dark, yet true look at life. Following two seemingly unrelated characters with personal demons tied to the troubles of our world, you will hardly be able to put this novel down. Childress's dry, true description of the world and the humans that live in it will lead you to total immersion into this story. I truly enjoyed the twists, turns, and unexpected ending.
Profile Image for John Machata.
1,166 reviews12 followers
October 23, 2015
Flat! Characters are lifeless- several actually dead are as lively as the living. Virtually everything about this book seems contrived. Happily put it down after almost making it to the midway mark.
Life is too short to read books that are mere time fillers.
204 reviews6 followers
January 19, 2016
Definitely a 4.75 star book for me. Kept me enthralled from the beginning.
Profile Image for Candy.
358 reviews10 followers
February 9, 2023
This book was the 2014 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. PEN America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend and celebrate free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights. Their work includes freedom of the press, safety of journalists, campus free speech, online harassment and artistic freedom.

Childress stated he began writing in 2010, when the U.S. was both in a recession and in a military conflict that was seemingly never-ending. Hmm…..sounds like not much has changed in over a decade.

There are two protagonists in the story and while they never meet, they have seven degrees of separation and their stories are entwined. First is Jessica, a drone pilot in the Air Force. During a drone strike against a terrorist, Jessica follows orders but her conscience weighs heavy as innocents are collateral damage. She shares her guilt with her father, and is soon considered a national security risk and is hunted by men driving black SUVs. Second is Ethan, a “quant” on Wall Street who develops an algorithm for high-speed trading based on the stock markets’ volatility in response to terrorist acts. Unfortunately, Ethan makes a coding error that costs his employer millions.

The book is definitely character-driven (not to say I liked either of them much), touching on government, corporations, family and personal matters and how we deal with them. The central theme is our lack of personal interaction in today’s society. Jessica and Ethan have a huge impact on society, and each is thousands of miles away, hidden behind a computer screen, controlling events of immense moral consequence. There is little actual plot, and sometimes the storyline seems a bit contrived. The book can be a bit dark and depressing at points, but it held my attention and made me think about how little we learn from the past as well as what AI will hold for the future.

Profile Image for Eye of Sauron.
389 reviews37 followers
January 3, 2019
A review on the back announces this book as "A master study in how people can emotionally detach themselves from the damage they cause in our computer-driven world" (The Washington Post). I don't really think there's anything else I can add to that.

Despite a few punctuational errors (? maybe the lack of certain commas is a stylistic choice due to an intended effect? still kinda bothers me though), And West Is West is a thoughtful, original, and emotional read. It examines the lives of two rather unlikable people who are cast out by the system in a heartless and functional world, dwelling on the irrelevancy of morality in a utilitarian society. There seems to be a bit of defeatism in the events, thought processes, and resolutions throughout the story, but it ends on a rather optimistic note, all things considered (a plus in my book).

I heartily disliked both MCs, as neither of them is particularly inclined toward anything but self-centeredness as a way of life. They aren't greedy, necessarily, but more unresistingly solipsistic in practical worldview. Character-wise, there isn't much hope for humanity, but the message coming across seems to be that flawed humans, despite an indifferent world, can make the best of their misfortunes. Because misfortune is really the theme here, which can make for great but dense and slog-worthy literature.

I didn't enjoy it at all, but I don't think that was its purpose in the first place. It's well done, and certainly deserving of its award, although I can say with certainty that it's something I will never read again.
Profile Image for Judy.
981 reviews56 followers
September 18, 2022
Winner of the prestigious PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, And West Is West is an inspired novel about two young people who learn, the hard way, about the devastating power of new technology to isolate us from the consequences of our actions.

I can't recall when I bought this book or who recommended it, but it was right up my alley. I thoroughly enjoy tightly written stories about technology, whether military or commercial. The character development was quite good, and the story kept me engaged.

The two primary characters, Jessica and Ethan, never meet in the story. But their lives have some parallels. I get the sense that when they do meet, they'll feel like kindred spirits.

Jessica is a young Air Force drone pilot in Nevada. Her job is to sit in a trailer flying drones to take out terrorists in the other side of the globe. Ethan works for a Wall Street Bank. He develops algorithms that exploit world events, like terrorist strikes, to make money in stock trades and currency conversion.

They both find themselves out of work and drifting along on a depressing path to self discovery. Each is fairly alone on their path, but they do begin to find their way. It was quite a satisfying story.
Profile Image for Jill.
338 reviews6 followers
July 17, 2017
This well-written book was not what I expected. I thought it would be more of a thriller, but it's not at all. It's really more stories about random people and how their lives intersect. Perhaps the author meant it to be more of a commentary on the depressing realities and absurdities of modern American life, touching on such subjects as financial manipulations, pill abuse, broken families, government bureaucracy, shallow romantic relationships, limited opportunities for the working class, and the hype of modern art. It took me a while to get into this book, but then something about it really captured me, and I kept wanting to read it, even though I wouldn't exactly call it a page turner. I ended up really enjoying it, although it's probably not a book that everyone would like.
Profile Image for Bj.
32 reviews
April 15, 2018
"A master study in how people can emotionally detach themselves from the damage they cause in our computer-driven world" (The Washington Post). This review is why I chose to read And West is West.

Normally I wouldn't be interested in reading about banking or the military, but a story about the ramifications of each employees job duties (a coder for a bank and an Air Force drone pilot) on themselves and society are fascinating as well as frightening.
442 reviews4 followers
February 27, 2020
Very thoughtful story of #1) the ethics conflicts of a drone controller tracking Al Queda suspect and guilt over possible collateral killing of innocents and #2) the major bank employee whose algorithm linking international conflicts to knowing when to sell shares when the market price was high and then re-buying the same shares after the price had dropped, thereby making tons of money for his employer, until someone tampered with it and he was terminated!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Julian Chrisphonte.
30 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2023
So poot. I'm assuming one of the characters is black but they write it in such an awful way who freaking knows. they basically wrote in every stereotype into that character. I already didn't like the book but that made it even worse. Book had literally no plot.

Whoever awarded this book needs their credentials snatched. The award may also need to be disbanded. Whoever thinks this book is enlightening... Good luck Charlie.
Profile Image for Jim Mastro.
Author 8 books3 followers
November 18, 2018
This is a story about two characters whose lives are inextricably linked, even though they live in completely different worlds and have no initial contact with each other. Forces beyond their control disrupt their lives and at the same time bind them together. Good story, with a lot to say about how technology can corrupt.
Profile Image for Terry Joseph.
40 reviews
February 26, 2023
I loved this book! I can see why it won a PEN/Bellweather Prize. This is a page-turner. Ron Childress is a talented, skillful writer who doesn't miss a beat. Each line is typed just as it should be, each piece of dialogue is meaningful. Seldom do I find an author who is equally skilled at technology, dialogue, pacing and suspense. I will be looking up all of Childress's books now!
499 reviews
March 25, 2018
This was a little all over the place, but I liked it anyway. I guess there were only two main characters, but it took me a long time to figure that out.

I kept waiting for the moment when the title would make sense or at least seem apropos, but that moment never came.
Profile Image for Mela.
263 reviews28 followers
July 8, 2017
kept reading despite the obv orientalism in the first few pages. stopped when i read, "she is not thin enough to be a model but would be after a week of lettuce dinners." ugh
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