cover image The Trace

The Trace

Forrest Gander. New Directions, $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2371-3

Poet and translator Gander's second novel (after As a Friend) begins with a riveting opening scene depicting a gruesome beheading of a faceless character inside a grime-caked bathroom. What follows is seemingly incongruous%E2%80%94tight, eloquently expressed chapters describing a distraught couple's road trip through the barren but seductive desert landscapes of Texas and Mexico, retracing the last steps legendary journalist Amrbose Bierce took before his unsolved death in 1913 while covering the Mexican Revolution. Though Dale and Hoa play at conducting research for Dale's book on Bierce, they mostly spend long hours in the car trying to bridge the crevasse that developed between them following their son's psych ward stint and disappearance. The pair's circumstances go from bad to worse when their rental car breaks down, leaving them panicked and stranded miles from nowhere in the blazing heat without water or cell signal. As in his previous works, Gander shows he is keenly aware of the loneliness that imbues human suffering and sets grief alight using beautiful, tense, haunting prose. As the well-paced plot creeps ever forward, the mysterious events at the beginning of the book are slowly revealed, resulting in an incendiary denouement that comes as a relief, but one not without each character's sacrifices. An intense read, with meditative poems between chapters to complete the package. (Nov.)