“The Trackers” and other short book reviews from readers

Editor’s note: The opinions of the smart, well-read women in my Denver book club mean a lot, and often determine what the rest of us choose to pile onto our bedside tables (or not). Sure, you could read advertising blurbs on Amazon, but wouldn’t you be more likely to believe a neighbor with no skin in the game over a corporation being fed words by publishers? So in this series, we are sharing these mini-reviews with you. Have any to offer? Email [email protected].

“The Trackers,” by Charles Frazier (Ecco, 2023)

Set in the Great Depression, this novel opens with a young artist, Val Welch, traveling to a small town in Wyoming, having been commissioned by the Federal Art Project to paint a mural on the wall of the town’s post office. The mural’s subject is the history of Wyoming and, yes, trackers figure largely in that history. Welch has been invited by the local big-wig rancher (and wannabe politician) to stay in a cabin on his property. When the rancher’s wife abruptly flees for parts unknown, the rancher improbably engages Welch to track her down (ostensibly to avoid any bad publicity over his abandonment, which could derail his political plans) — thus the double meaning of “the trackers” in the title. Welch’s search for the missing wife takes him to the northwest, San Francisco and even Florida swampland, and he encounters some fascinating and even frightening characters along the way. Although this novel doesn’t offer you an “all’s well that ends well” kind of ending, it was believable, and right for this story.  (Editor’s note: Reminder that Frazier is author of the best-seller “Cold Mountain.”) — Kathleen Lance, Denver; 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

“Matrix,” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2021)

Set in 12th century England, this novel depicts Marie de France, sent from court to be prioress of a struggling abbey in a chaotic world. Her strength is impressive, as is the depth of Groff’s writing. There are so many levels of reading, from floating on the surface to deep submersion. I happen to enjoy swimming at different depths, and the deep dive of this book was much appreciated.  In the years between publishing “The Monsteres of Templeton” (2008) and “Matrix” (2021), Groff has matured remarkably as a writer. Although her prose reminds me a bit of Alice Hoffman and Margaret Atwood, she has her own distinct style, with delightful imagery and personification. “The wind blows and ruffles the dead grasses, throws the brown hands of oak leaves to the ground to tumble. The fields are cropped close to the soil like a nun’s scalp. There is white in the air, it is too warm for the snow to stick, but the flakes dance and rise with the movement of the wind. It is Marie’s happiness worn by the outward world.” I’m adding her to my must-read authors. – 3 stars (out of 4); Neva Gronert, Parker

“Hatchet,” by Gary Paulsen (Simon & Schuster reissue, 2006)

This novel is proof that age categorizations of books are mere suggestions, for this adventure tale is touted for young adults but will be enjoyed by all. A 1988 winner of the Newbery Honor for young-adult fiction, this coming-of-age tale features one of the most challenging survival stories imaginable. (Nothing like a few life-or-death situations to teach you.) Young Brian Robeson, plane-wrecked in the Canadian bush country with only a hatchet as a tool to help him, endures nearly two months. Following this indisputable new beginning, along the way he picks up life skills, confidence and the will to live. This is the first in a series. – 4 stars (out of 4); Bonnie McCune, Denver; bonniemccune.com

“The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America,” by Monica Potts (Random House, 2023)

The title pretty much sums it up:  One girl in the friendship leaves a rural Arkansas community and finds success, while the other stays and spirals down into drugs, serial bad relationships, kids she can barely support, and eventually a prison sentence.  There but by the grace of God … . — 2½ stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

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