Book Review: ‘The Trackers’ by Charles Frazier

A journey through post-Depression America that uncovers hidden histories and untamed desires.

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Book Title: The Trackers
Author: Charles Frazier
Publisher: Fourth Estate (HarperCollins)
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0008664794
Date Published: Aug. 25, 2023
Price: INR 381

The Trackers by Charles Frazier Book Cover

Book Review

Charles Frazier’s fifth novel, “The Trackers,” is set primarily outside of the American South. There is a brief interlude in Florida, but the first-person narrator, Valentine Welch, a 27-year-old Virginia artist, mainly works in the West. In the story, Val, a narrator, travels to Wyoming from Virginia in 1937 to paint a mural for the Works Progress Administration. He meets wealthy rancher John Long and his wife Eve, who aspire to the U.S. Senate Eve was once a transient and sang in a swing band.

As a painter, Val Welch ventures westward to Dawes, Wyoming, where he is assigned a New Deal assignment. Creating a mural for their new Post Office being the assignment, he is surrounded by rumors and intrigue, as his wife Eve, a wealthy art lover, and John Long, a rich art lover, have a WWI sniper background. Val becomes intrigued by their lives and eventually follows Eve’s trail, navigating various locations and encountering secrets that could change their lives. When Eve goes missing, Long enlists Val to find out where she went and why she went missing. As Val crosses the country, looking for Eve and disclosing secrets that would affect everything between the three, the terrain swings from Wyoming to Florida to Seattle to San Francisco.

Frazier surprises the readers: John by absconding and taking his favorite Renoir painting. Val becomes one of the novel’s trackers when John convinces him to hold the mural and find Eve. John aspires to fill Wyoming’s U.S. Senate seat, and Eve’s marriage to John is rumored to be bigamous, making his candidacy almost sure to fail. Val searches for Eve in Florida, which he deems the original “Wild West” and views as an assault on civilization. He compares the state to a hot towel from someone else’s bath to a towel flung sopping across one’s face.

Frazier’s unique writing style, combined with his keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling, creates a powerful and timeless classic that captures the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history. Frazier expertly weaves a historical background into his fictitious story. The Great Depression’s legacy and America’s efforts to overcome it are everywhere, from the run-down “Hoovervilles” populated by knife-wielding homeless teens to the gleaming new airport in Tampa, where Val flies in the hopes of learning more about Jake, a young man Eve may or may not have married during her rail-riding days.

The book’s appeal lies in its historical fiction setting during the WPA/New Deal period after the Great Depression. The narrative explores an era rarely depicted, drawing the reader into its fold. The enigma surrounding the protagonist’s wife’s departure propels the reader forward, counterbalancing reservations about the plot’s gradual pace and lack of complexity. The plot is slow, and the characters are unlikable, lacking character-driven or poetic writing, typically compensated for in slow-paced novels.

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The Trackers” is a tale set 86 years ago, with frightening parallels to today. The story also delves into the significance of art, the mythos of the American West, and the process of beginning again. The novel concludes with Val, the narrator, working on his mural in Dawes, Wyoming, adding the last elements to complete the painting.

Thus, “The Trackers” by Charles Frazier is a thrilling story set in Wyoming with an all-American sting.

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