Tuesday, June 23, 2009

'The Signal' By Ron Carlson

Reviewed By J.K.
Chicago Tribune

Mack's father has been gone from this Earth a good long time, but he's still a daily part of Mack's life. That gives "The Signal" (Viking), the new novel by Ron Carlson, special resonance on a Sunday devoted to dads.

They ran a guest ranch in Wyoming, did father and son, until the father passed away unexpectedly, at which point Mack's life fell apart: "At the ranch, everything was tilted, weird; it was more than something missing. Gravity had changed. Mack saw to the horses and painted the small barn, but there was no center for him without his father there."

Yet as Mack divulges in the course of this uncommonly fine novel, his father lives vividly in his memories. Mack undertakes a mysterious trip in the wilderness, taking along his estranged wife, Vonnie, and his father's words and rules are often all that stand between Mack and disaster.

Carlson's writing is crisp and blunt, much like the very Wyoming landscape he describes. In his last novel, "Five Skies" (2007), he did the same thing: He echoed the raw topography with the simple beauty of his words. "I pay attention to every sentence," Carlson said in a recent phone interview.

"I work very hard in my book to make them about real places," he added. "In a lot of books today, we have a lot of general, floating life, life in apartments, urban stories. I'm much more interested in the West. I work from particulars."

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