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Cover of The Trackers by Charles FrazierThe Trackers

by Charles Frazier

GENRE: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

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 sniper—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.

Discussion Guide

Closeup of Charles Frazier leaning on a fence Author Biography

Charles Frazier was born in Asheville. He currently lives part of the year within sight of the building in Biltmore Village where he was born. Branches of his family settled in western North Carolina at least a couple of hundred years ago. He grew up in Andrews, NC, a town of about a thousand people more than two hours west of Asheville in the far, pointy tip of the state. A member of the state legislature once told Frazier, “I didn’t even know there was any North Carolina two hours west of Asheville.”

Frazier first visited Chapel Hill at fourteen, and after walking around campus for an hour, he decided UNC was the only place he would consider going to college. He graduated in 1973 and later acquired graduate degrees from Appalachian State and the University of South Carolina, which residents of that state insist upon calling “Carolina” no matter how often they’re corrected.

After finishing course work and exams for the Ph.D, instead of rushing precipitously into his dissertation, he wrote and photographed a travel book for Sierra Club Books titled Adventuring in the Andes: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia. In the wake of being informed that all his dissertation extensions had been used up and that he had only six months left, Frazier completed it just in the nick of time.

Eventually, under advisement from his wife, Katherine Beal Frazier, Ph.D., and Kaye Gibbons, novelist, he quit teaching in order to write fiction. His first novel, Cold Mountain, was published in 1997. Since then he has published Thirteen Moons, Nightwoods, and Varina, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and award winners.

Frazier’s work has been translated into over three dozen languages, including Cherokee and has been recognized with the Sue Kaufman Prize of The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Book Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the Lillian Smith Award, the American Booksellers Book of the Year Award, the James Still Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Southern Book Award, The Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, and others. Frazier also received the North Carolina Award in the field of Literature, the highest civilian award bestowed by the state.

Director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of Cold Mountain was released in 2003. Composer Jennifer Higdon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and multiple Grammy awards, and Grammy-nominated librettist Gene Scheer adapted Cold Mountain for the opera. At the 2016 International Opera Awards in London, Santa Fe Opera’s premiere of Cold Mountain was named best World Premiere of 2015. - North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame

More titles by this author



Frazier goes in search of the American dream amid the seemingly endless nightmare of the Great Depression. The ambitions here are as lofty as one of those murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration to lift the nation's spirits and provide some income for indigent artists. One such (fictional) artwork has the same title as this novel, as young painter Valentine "Val" Welch travels west to the small town of Dawes, Wyoming, to create a mural in their post office that will capture the spirit of the country. His former art professor got him the job and has also connected him with the wealthy art patron John Long, who has extensive property there and a glamorous young wife named Eve. As first-person narrator, Val struggles to figure out what the deal is between the married couple. Then there's the mysterious Faro, a cowboy relic of the Western past whose association with Long predates his marriage and whose relationship with Eve has a furtive element to it. (He may well provide the moral compass here.) Long has political aspirations, and Eve adds some dazzle. She also has a past that includes bumming around the country and singing in a country dancehall band, where her husband (and so many others) first became attracted to her. She also may or may not have had a previous husband, who may or may not be dead. Once she takes off, Long sends Val to find her. It's a big country, and he's no detective, but he doesn't have as much difficulty as you'd think. In the process, he complicates the plot in a couple of different ways, and he, as the tracker, soon has other trackers in his pursuit. For a novel that traverses the country from Seattle to back-swamp Florida, the writing is curiously static, filled with meticulous descriptions and philosophical soliloquies, with all sorts of stilted conjecture about fate, art, and America (and no quotation marks). By the end, not even the characters seem to care much about who finds whom. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publisher's Weekly

The diverting if muddled latest from Frazier (Cold Mountain) blends a Depression-era travelogue with a noirish star-crossed love story involving an artist and a Wyoming rancher's wife. In 1937, earnest young artist Val Welch arrives in remote Dawes, Wyo., on the WPA payroll, to paint a mural on the wall of the local post office. He's taken in by wealthy rancher John Long and his wife, Eve, who has recently settled down after years roaming the country as a hobo and later as a nightclub singer, and whose beauty captures Val's heart. But Eve, feeling trapped by her cosseted new life, soon takes off, and John sends lovelorn Val on a cross-country journey to find her, trailed by another man who may or may not be Eve's first husband. Frazier is a gifted stylist, and his gritty portrait of America in the depths of the Depression rings true, as do the character details--a razor-wielding villain adds to the danger around femme fatale Eve. Unfortunately, the mélange of genres and a curious lack of romantic chemistry between Val and Eve (Frazier never establishes what Val sees in Eve besides her looks) drains the emotional power. There's fun to be had, but it's not Frazier's best. (Apr.)


Following Varina (2018), Frazier is in top form for his fifth novel, which traverses America in its portrait of contrasting Depression-era lives. "The Trackers" is the name that New Deal artist Valentine "Val" Welch gives the mural he's commissioned to paint in the post office of Dawes, Wyoming. He aims to inspire small-town pride by showcasing regional highlights. While lodging at the expansive ranch of aspiring politician John Long and his younger wife, Eve, Val gets pulled into their drama. Not long after a stressful dinner party, Eve takes off with a small Renoir from Long's collection in hand and doesn't return. Long asks Val to find her. Events turn more dangerous and puzzling than expected. From an exhausting trip to wild rural Florida to the newly constructed, cinnabar-hued Golden Gate Bridge, the locales feel period-authentic, and the writing hums with spectacular word-images. While Val narrates, using a light folksy style that Frazier's fans will recognize, the novel's primary hero is Eve. An inscrutably captivating woman from impoverished origins who became a teenage hobo and sang in cowboy bands, she has reasons for fleeing wealthy married life, and the mystery ignites the plot. The Old West still lingers in this propulsive tale of individualistic characters striving to beat the odds.


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