The Trackers by Charles Frazier: A review

This book is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It's not really an era that I prefer reading about, maybe because I grew up with parents who had lived through it and my life was informed by their stories of it. I have somewhat the same prejudice about World War II. It was the defining event of my father's life and I heard about it all during my childhood. But setting my prejudices aside, I had enjoyed Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, so I decided to give his new book a chance. I'm glad I did. It was an enjoyable read.

It tells the story of a painter, Val Welch, who secures a New Deal assignment to paint a mural in the Dawes, Wyoming post office. The mural is supposed to represent a vision of that region of the world. Val considers himself very lucky to have landed the job when so many are out of work.

He travels west to Dawes prepared to get busy with the project. A wealthy rancher, John Long, and his wife, Eve, have invited Dawes to stay in one of the bunkhouses that serve the cowboys who work for them. He settles in and starts planning his work.

The Longs are the subject of a lot of gossip in the town. John has hopes for a political career. He had served in the army in World War I, but that service seems a bit shady in that he was a sniper. Rather than facing the enemy head-on, he killed while hidden. It's not clear how that will play in the rough tumble of a political campaign.

Moreover, his wife is a bit of a question mark. Before marrying John, she had lived the itinerant life of a singer in a Western swing band and she seems to be loathe to settling down to life as a rancher's wife. In fact, she doesn't settle. One day she absconds taking with her a valuable painting. Her husband hires the mural painter, Val, to go after her, find her, and bring her home.

Val travels across the continent in his search for Eve. Through his eyes, we see the ramshackle settlements that were called Hoovervilles that sprang up around the country. We also experience the nightlife of San Francisco in that era and finally, we travel to the swamps of Florida. 

Charles Frazier has done his research well and he brings all of that to life for us and makes the reader feel the desperation of the period. He does have a knack for writing about ordinary people who are just trying to get through the day and then tomorrow and the next day and the next... 

And that is exactly the story he has given us with The Trackers.


  1. Interesting plot. I like Frazier generally because of his characters but sometimes I get bogged down in his prose style that begins to feel a little "dense" to me at times.

  2. I've never read any of Frazier's books. I started Cold Mountain once, but just couldn't get into it. I don't know if it was the writing or just my mood. Parts of this one intrigue me, but I'm not sure I'd get through it right now either.

    1. I'm not really enamored of his style of writing but he does tell some good stories.

  3. Oh good. I'm glad you read & reviewed this novel. After his novels Cold Mountain and Varina, I am a Frazier fan. But I think the critics response steered me away from this new one ... But now I plan to put it back on my TBR due to your positive thoughts. Have you read Varina? I liked that one. Which is your favorite Frazier novel? hmm

    1. The only ones of his that I've read are "Cold Mountain" and this one and I've liked them both about equally. I'll put "Varina" on my reading list.


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