The Trackers: A Novel

by Charles Frazier

Hardcover, 2023

Call number



Ecco (2023), 336 pages


Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML: From the New York Times bestselling author of Cold Mountain and Varina, a stunning new novel that paints a vivid portrait of life in the Great Depression Hurtling past the downtrodden communities of Depression-era America, painter Val Welch travels westward to the rural town of Dawes, Wyoming. Through a stroke of luck, he's landed a New Deal assignment to create a mural representing the region for their new Post Office. A wealthy art lover named John Long and his wife Eve have agreed to host Val at their sprawling ranch. Rumors and intrigue surround the couple: Eve left behind an itinerant life riding the rails and singing in a western swing band. Long holds shady political aspirations, but was once a WWI sniperâ??and his right hand is a mysterious elder cowboy, a vestige of the violent old west. Val quickly finds himself entranced by their lives. One day, Eve flees home with a valuable painting in tow, and Long recruits Val to hit the road with a mission of tracking her down. Journeying from ramshackle Hoovervilles to San Francisco nightclubs to the swamps of Florida, Val's search for Eve narrows, and he soon turns up secrets that could spark formidable changes for all of them. In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own. With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nancyadair
I couldn’t put this book down, reading it over two days. The story brings alive the world of 1939, as the main character travels from an East Coast Tidewater town to a small Wyoming town, then to Hoovervilles and lawless Florida swamplands. The novel offers a marvelous opportunity to embrace the
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whole of America during the Depression. And, we learn that violence is endemic to American culture, with individuals or local authorities holding more power than the Federal government. It was a time when the people lost their trust in American ideals and institutions, while overseas, fascism was a growing threat.

…some days the converging portents felt like the end of the world was approaching, like the next logical progression would be a plague erupting or an asteroid plunging straight for us.
from the Trackers by Charles Frazier

Val has been hired by the Works Progress Administration to paint a mural on a newly built post office, art that reflected the history of the town. Val would show the people the importance of art and how it can inspire pride. He plans a scene of progression, showing the conquest of the West, with trackers in the center.

A local rancher offers Val a cabin, and friendship. John Long lucked out when he chose to inherit the ranchland that made him rich with oil wells and cattle. Stepping into Long’s home, Val first sees a gallery of fine art. Then he meets Long’s beautiful wife, Eve. She had been a singer with traveling band when they met. As a teenager, she was sent from home to find work, and she joined the company of hobos, traveling across the country. Long offered her comfort and wealth, but she bristled at being one more collected object, a trophy wife for Long’s political aspirations.

Val dines with the Longs, is invited to go riding and on picnics. He meets Faro, a cowboy who had once known Billy the Kid. Long trusts Val enough that when Eve disappears, he hires him to track her down. But, he is not the only one on her trail.

The law was whoever had the most guns, same as it always was throughout history.
from The Trackers by Charles Frazier

Like all the best historical fiction novels, the past informs our present. “For long stretches, you could believe we were still the imagined country whose overall movement was steadily and surely upward,” Val thinks. He is a socialist whose artist hero is Diego Rivera who portrayed the works on Ford’s assembly line and River Rouge factory on the walls of the Detroit Museum of Art. He believes that the Depression had revealed the fundamental flaws in the Constitution, allowing capitalism to have freewheeling control over the workers who are now organizing unions.

This historical backstory and political commentary is undergirded by the scaffold of a love story. Long’s love for his wife feels like a love of possession, but Val has also fallen for Eve. When he finally finds her, he becomes compromised. Long has hired him to do a job, bring Eve back, but Val wants Eve, too. And then, the tracker becomes tracked as well.

This is a fantastic read, and I hope, will become a fantastic movie.
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LibraryThing member tamidale
In his newest novel, Charles Frazier takes readers to depression-era Wyoming where a young man named Val Welch has been sent to paint a mural for the Post Office that represents the region.

Val is being hosted by wealthy landowner and art lover, John Long and his wife Eve. The three begin having
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dinner together and staying up late drinking and telling stories of the past. Eve led a fairly free life riding the rails and singing in western bands until she married Long.

As Val is nearing completion of his mural, Eve leaves home and Long enlists his help in trying to find her. It seems Eve has a somewhat shady past and Long needs to know if she was married and if her husband died or if he is still alive. Val ends up risking a lot to appease Long in finding Eve. There are several other stories at play that have an influence on the characters.

I found this to be somewhat of an odd story with odd characters, each of whom has a past that we may never fully know. I did enjoy Val’s journey to find Eve.

I liked the story and Frazier’s descriptive writing, but it was not my favorite of his novels. Readers who enjoy learning about the states and the depression-era life will enjoy this novel.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Ecco for allowing me to read an advance copy. I am happy to recommend this to readers and offer my honest review.
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LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
The Trackers is a historical fiction book about the Great Depression. The WPA has hired Val to paint a mural in the post office of a small town in Wyoming. He's boarding at their ranch with John Long and his younger wife, Eve. John is wealthy, untouched by the Depression, but Eve was a hobo, riding
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the rails and picking fruit before John met her as a country singer. When Eve takes off with a valuable painting, John hires Val to track her down through Hoovervilles, camps, and bars. He also sends off Faro, his chief cowboy, who has an interesting history in the Old West. Faro is quite a character, and I wish we had seen more of his backstory.
This book takes place in the mid-thirties, so the dust bowl era, well after Black Monday. There's a strange contrast between those who held onto their money and lives versus those who lost everything and are just trying to survive. Frazier does a fine job of painting small vignettes that drive those points home. He also utilizes the political scene of the time: Long is older and more conservative, possibly running for office, while Val is a recent college graduate and more inclined towards Roosevelt's New Deal policies.
I was more interested in the history than the actual plot of the relationships between Eve and Long, Faro, and Val. Frazier also chose a writing style without marking off dialogue using punctuation (I don't remember this in Cold Mountain and Varina, but then it didn't bother me much anyway).
If you're interested in history of this period, this is a great book to read.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
[3.75 stars] Having been utterly captivated by “Cold Mountain” a couple years ago, I was eager to read Frazier’s last work of historical fiction. Sadly, I was disappointed. Perhaps part of it was the high bar set by the author’s earlier masterful work. But even if I hadn’t approached
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“The Trackers” with high expectations, the slow pacing of protaganist’s search for a missing wife would have likely yielded a 3-star grade. My mind wandered in at least a dozen different spots. The storyline had potential. I can’t quite pinpoint why I never connected with the main characters.
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LibraryThing member witchyrichy
I picked up The Trackers: A Novel by Charles Frazier off the lucky day shelf at the library: you get them for two weeks with no renewals. I knew that would be fine as I have read everything else Frazier wrote and figured I only needed a day or two. I was right.

Frazier's story is set during the
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Depression in a small Wyoming town where the main character, Val Welch, has been hired to paint a mural on the post office wall. Through his work he meets the locals, including the town's wealthy landowner, John Long, and his young wife, Eve, a former singer. Welch stays in a cottage on the ranch, giving him first hand experiences of the Longs and their ranch hands. When Eve disappears, Long hires Welch to find her, using faulty logic that leads to danger for Welch as he moves from California to Florida in pursuit of Eve. Along the way, we are immersed in Depression era America.

The story was excellent, well-crafted characters, perfectly plotted.
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LibraryThing member EllenH
His storytelling captures the time during the late 30's from Florida to Washington to Wyoming so well. His prose was sometimes appreciated and sometimes skimmed over, but all in all a great read.
LibraryThing member DrApple
The writing is as beautiful as always in a Frazier book, but the characters are not as likable or memorable as in his previous works.
LibraryThing member rocketjk
I knew of Charles Frazier as the author of the best-selling novel Cold Mountain as well as a book I liked even better, Thirteen Moons. Those aren't his only two others, but they were the two I knew of. The Trackers is another work of historical fiction, this time taking place in the later stages of
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the Great Depression. Valentine Welch is a young artist, recently graduated from college, who, through the auspices of his college professor and mentor, gets a job painting a WPA mural on the wall of a post office in remote Dawes, Wyoming. In addition, he has been offered lodging on the nearby Long Shot Ranch, owned by a wealthy landowner, John Long. Long, who has political ambitions, has a younger wife, Eve, with a past that includes years spent on the road, picking fruit, surviving in hobo camps, and eventually singing in traveling country bands. To Val they seem an unlikely couple and during the course of story, no one who has ever read a novel will be surprised to learn, their relationship begins to fray in dramatic fashion.

I found the beginning stages of The Trackers to be its most satisfying section. Frazier's writing style is very engaging, and Val's long musings and observations about the nature of the Depression and the damage it has done to millions of lives in the name of greed and irresponsibility I found very well done. Val's description of the Wyoming landscape and Eve's description of the horrors (and satisfactions) of her earlier life are all quite good. Another memorable character is Faro, the Long Shot's foreman who has a colorful and dangerous past of his own.

Once the plot line gets going, however, as Eve takes off with a small Renoir of her husband's to parts unknown and for reasons obscure, and Long hires Val to go find her, things begin to get a bit more pedestrian. The storyline stays engaging, and Frazier's writing overall remains strong, but I began to wonder what it was all for. Also the common trope of the innocent abroad, much less worldly than he believes himself to be and constantly in error, began to wear on me a bit. Time and again I would say to myself, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."*

However, I don't want to overemphasize the novel's faults. All and all I found it entertaining and fun, with some stretches of really lovely writing and a good if not particularly believable plot.

* Game of Thrones reference
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LibraryThing member nyiper
I really became attached to "Val"---the painter of the post office mural and describer of what happened during this three month period Frazier describes so beautifully---using colors in life to enhance the telling. In some ways the story seems long and drawn out but as the reader, I wanted to know
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what Val was thinking and doing and that's where we are, page by page. I loved Cold Mountain...this is the same writing---clear and descriptive. The historical aspects of this entire book were a wonderful help in trying to place this story in time.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Val Welch is an artist charged under the WPA Act to paint a mural on the post office wall in Wyoming. Here he meets big rancher John Long and his wife Eve, who he has recently married and a woman who has a history as a cowboy singer, a hobo, and a no good ex husband. John has several paintings by
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artists such as Renoir and Eve unexpectedly takes off with one of his favorites. John has ambitions to run as governor or senator of the state and doesn't want any kind of scandal so he hires Val to find Eve. The quest takes him to Seattle where he finds a clue about the ex-husband, Jake, whose family lives in a swamp in Florida. Val takes his first scary airplane ride to Tampa and finds the even more scary Olson family.

The story moves from Wyoming, to Florida, to Seattle, and to San Francisco to dive bars, fancy hotels, and places in California. There are interesting characters along the way, a bit of humor, a believable plot, and a satisfying ending. All in all, a good read. (Liked it much better than Cold Mountain).
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