One hesitates to "review" a book like Che Elias's West Virginia (Six Gallery Press), since the conventions of reviewing require a focus on what a book is "about," where fiction is concerned on recapitulating the "story" (which, unfortunately, most newspaper book reviews emphasize most directly and at greatest length), as well as summing up the characters and situation motivating the story. Such reviews assume a shared, stable definition of "fiction" or "novel" in which these elements predominate, and to give an account of a particular novel using them is to position this novel--as well as the reviewer--in the recognizable, respectable space devoted to "literary fiction."
When confronted with a work that doesn't itself assume the stability of definition used by book reviewers, that is manifestly unconventional or "experimental," the temptation is to either label it so and let readers reach their own (usually unfavorable) conclusion about whether it's a book they'll want to read or to find a way to describe the work in such a way that it to some degree does incorporate the conventional elements--"the setting is indefinite and shifting, but nevertheless evokes a world of dreamlike dimensions," etc. I myself generally adopt the latter strategy when attempting a review of an unconventional work, although I don't so much try to make the work fit the existing categories as to explicate what it seems to me to be doing that effectively replaces or substitutues for those categories.
Even so, a descriptive review of this sort can still impose an appearance of normative coherence that the work doesn't really express, sometimes actively resists. This kind of review also risks misleading the reader, who might give the book a chance, hoping to find enough of the conventional pleasures to make it worthwhile in those terms only to find it remains alien and "difficult." Such a review does a disservice both to the reader and to the work in question, the latter of which ought somehow to be given the opportunity to be approached on its own terms. The effort to "dumb down" fiction so that it appeals to the widest possible audience is in general misguided and counterproductive, and even an unwitting distortion of a challenging novel's discernible features also does the cause of experimental fiction no favors at all, if anything drives the "ordinary" reader even farther away.
Thus I will not attempt to recover West Virginia for the casual reader who knows he/she will not find enjoyable a novel--albeit a relatively brief one--whose prose style might be captured in a passage such as this:
Now I can only listen to the smile that killed me before, to the time that ran away and the days where they say they've all left me. And the time now, the room indefinite, and the room now, the place where you were next to me, and the room said, well, you got some things you can think of being the only ones that exist, and the days being the only men you can say were human. And the people, down to the point in Wheeling, they will all say yes, we're those people, and the men, too, the ones who killed us, and the ones who only held one thing against us in Wheeling, there was just a time when we knew they were all through. And I had to walk down steps in Wheeling too, think I crossed halls and fields as well, guess these are the worst people I know, guess that I should get used to them.
I enjoyed West Virginia--in fact, read it twice--but I can't finally say what the book is "about," although the above-quoted passage does invoke several of the motifs and images that recur throughout the text: a room, "the people," an incident in Wheeling, which may have involved a rape, a killing, child abuse, a fire. There are several named characters, Andy Reed, Amber Reed (the latter of whom may have betrayed the former), Lynda Cleary, but they are hardly "characters" of the sort most readers expect to find in novels. They are essentially the locus around which the motifs and images swirl in a montage of repetition and variation. The effect is often hypnotic and sometimes dramatic--a revelation of sorts seems on the verge of materializing only to become lost again in the swirl--and the reader willing to suspend expectations of character continuity, of narrative "arc" and resolution, of style as a source of information, with the occasional rhetorical flourish, might well find the pull of language itself an adequate subsitute for the narrative devices most writers still cling to, as did I.
But I don't think many readers will be willing to suspend these expectations, especially not as radically as a work like West Virginia solicits us to do. Those who consider the usual narrative devices to be the essence of fiction would surely put the book aside in confusion after a page or two. To some extent one might say that West Virginia is a "novel" that takes "psychological realism" to its most insular extreme: We are trapped inside the memories and/or perceptions of the narrator, who is unable to exteriorize these perceptions into what most readers of fiction would consider appropriate discourse. If you want access to "mind" in its rawest precincts, this is it. I don't think too many readers, even readers ostensibly committed to realism, would find much solace in this, either. Nor would it suffice to call this text "poetry" rather than fiction (a hybrid, perhaps), as most readers already avoid poetry because it's "just language," arranged in ways these readers don't "get." To urge urge such readers to try West Virginia because it's in some deep sense "poetic" might get us over the obstacle posed by "difficulty" in fiction but doesn't get us over the remaining obstacle that poses the poetic as difficult in the first place.
Thus, if you think you might like a book that requires a different kind of reading from you, reading that asks you to avoid the paths of comprehension you've always trod, by all means read West Virginia. If you're comfortable on those paths, and think a book like this would just get you lost, you probably should avoid it.