The Trackers: A Novel
Charles Frazier’s name is synonymous with sweeping historical fiction that brings seemingly lost worlds to life: Cold Mountain, Nightwoods, and more. His latest, The Trackers, has some of that same feeling, but it lacks the urgency that makes his earlier novels hum.
Painter Val Welch has been sent to Wyoming to paint a mural in the new post office in Dawes, a smaller community surrounded by ranchers and farmland as far as the eye can see. His mentor recommended him for the job, and he is grateful for the work given the Depression the country is in, and finds himself at the homestead of benefactors John and Eve Long who have agreed to house him as he completes the mural. This is a great premise, but it is also where the novel starts giving away all its secrets. From the very start, its clear John and Eve aren’t fully who they say they are–their ranch is shrouded in mystery, and the overseer of the ranch, Faro, is that common blend of stand-up guy and suspicious character, so there’s obviously something fishy afoot early on. So, when Eve takes off with a valuable painting, there’s no real surprise there.
What is surprising is why Long trusts the painter, Val, to go after her. The bulk of the book is a travel narrative with a noir bent of Val trying to find Eve; some people are kind to him along the way, others aren’t, but none of it has the punch and drive of Frazier’s earlier work. Perhaps that was his intention–to draw out the search and make it feel as exhausting to read as it may have been for Val to conduct–but it didn’t come to life on the page as I hoped it would. And the resolution to The Trackers doesn’t feel very resolved at all.
But, there is no doubt Frazier can write, and his gorgeous descriptions of Depression-era America make the book worth reading for historical fiction lovers.