The Signal: A Novel

( 5 )

Overview

"The Signal accelerates like an avalanche...If men can't be brought back to fiction by books as fine as this one, it's their own damn fault."
-The Washington Post

Ron Carlson, author of the critically acclaimed Five Skies, is an award-winning writer beloved by booksellers, reviewers, and readers alike. His most thrilling book to date, The Signal follows the story of Mack and Vonnie, a married couple who, after ten years together, are taking ...

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Overview

"The Signal accelerates like an avalanche...If men can't be brought back to fiction by books as fine as this one, it's their own damn fault."
-The Washington Post

Ron Carlson, author of the critically acclaimed Five Skies, is an award-winning writer beloved by booksellers, reviewers, and readers alike. His most thrilling book to date, The Signal follows the story of Mack and Vonnie, a married couple who, after ten years together, are taking their last hike in the mountains of Wyoming to say goodbye to their relationship and to each other. As the troubled and tragic elements of their past gradually come to light over the course of their journey, Mack keeps a secret: he is tracking a signal, sent via a beacon that has fallen from the sky, that will lead them both into a wood far darker than they have ever imagined.

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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
Ron Carlson…writes like Hemingway without the misogyny and self-parody. If there's a smart man in your life who might still be tempted into the pleasures of contemporary literary fiction, The Signal could be just the gateway drug you're after…Carlson never drops an extra word or a false phrase, even as The Signal accelerates like an avalanche, suspicion rolling into fear and then roaring down with a conclusion that shakes the ground. If men can't be brought back to fiction by books as fine as this one, it's their own damn fault.
—The Washington Post
Jennifer Gilmore
In The Signal, the visceral beauty of the land sustains the reader, as it has so clearly sustained Mack and Vonnie. Like Rick Bass and Jim Harrison, Carlson writes about the natural world with convincing authority. And Mack's love and admiration for the West, his familiarity with its seasons and changes, its weaknesses and strengths, illuminate, by contrast, just how limited his understanding of people can be, even his understanding of the woman he loves. The Signal takes us into terrain that's stunning and terrible. In doing so, it becomes both an elegy to a broken marriage and a heart-stopping, suspenseful thriller. It's a difficult journey, but relax: with Ron Carlson, you really are in expert hands.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The dense Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming is where Carlson (Five Skies) sets his brooding latest, a tale of expired love and desperate measures. Mack, son of a longtime rancher, has made many missteps in life, culminating in a recent stint in jail where "he'd rusted like an old post when the weather turned." While he's in jail, his recently ex-wife Vonnie agrees to join him one last time on their annual ritual of backpacking through the Wyoming wilderness to fish, camp and rediscover each other. Mack, though, has a hidden motive: a friend/technical genius has hired him to retrieve a valuable drone that's crash-landed in the forest. Carlson describes the couple's six days wandering the wooded terrain in delicate, measured prose, careful to miss neither the lush scenery nor the incrementally amplified tension as Mack edges closer to his prize and shady characters from the past appear. Carlson has produced a work of masterful fiction, combining the sad inevitability of a doomed relationship with sheer nail-biting suspense. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

As in his wonderful Five Skies, Carlson again offers readers a broken man endeavoring to heal himself through nature. Following his dad's sudden death, Mack, who comes from a long line of Wyoming ranchers, takes to muling drugs to raise fast cash to save the family homestead. Add months of constant drinking and a fling with an even more damaged woman, and Mack finds himself despondent, divorced, and jailed. Free again, he convinces ex-wife Vonnie to come on one final fishing trip high in the mountains they both love. For him, it's both an attempt to win her back and a secret, high-paying job to locate a classified government object that fell from a military plane. Vonnie simply wants closure and a last good-bye. Their plans evaporate when they encounter something more nefarious in the deep, silent, engulfing forest than anything they'd faced before. VERDICT This character-driven story unfurls slowly through dialog, exposition, and flashbacks. Simple, taut, and elegant, it's a beautifully told tale of love and redemption that all readers will appreciate.—Mike Rogers, LJX/LJ


—Mike Rogers
Kirkus Reviews
Energetic depiction of a rocky mountain romance that sputters along for an eventful decade. Carlson (The Speed of Light, 2003, etc.) takes as his setting the formidably gorgeous terrain in and around Wyoming's Wind River Mountains, where protagonist Mack grows up on his widowed father's dude ranch, accommodating and charming tenderfoot tourists in pursuit of controlled adventure and spectacle. One such is Vonnie, a headstrong educated Easterner with a musical gift. The expanse of their relationship is slowly revealed from the vantage point of Vonnie's return to Wyoming for a tenth annual backpacking mountain trip, by which time her attraction to Mack has grown cold. Lengthy flashbacks focus mostly on Mack, a bright but wayward youngster whose stamina and stoicism endear him to the mercurial Vonnie. At 17, she wanders away from the ranch and is rescued by the taciturn but already smitten Mack. Vonnie goes back East; Mack's dad dies; and the young man begins to drift: "Without his father's expectations, he found himself without a rudder." Mack attends college and learns skills that get him work as a computer consultant for some very shady clients. Soon he's entrenched in a life of crime and exposure to lethal violence. His impulsive marriage to Vonnie quickly unravels; she's ever hopeful, but, unlike Mack, nobody's fool. There's too much repetition in otherwise superbly managed wilderness scenes, but the novel simmers with a strongly constructed impression of trouble perpetually lurking nearby, nicely captured in the local tall tale of Hiram, a lovelorn recluse and stalker. These strengths, along with the vivid figures of Vonnie and Mack, will keep most readers turning the pages. A bit of acomedown from the bracing high of Five Skies (2007), Carlson's best novel to date, but an eye-opening trip well worth taking nevertheless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143117551
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/25/2010
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 643,179
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ron Carlson is the award-winning author of four story collections and four novels, most recently Five Skies. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Playboy, and GQ, and has been featured on NPR’s This American Life and Selected Shorts as well as in Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. His novella, “Beanball,” was recently selected for Best American Mystery Stories. He is the director of the UC Irvine writing program and lives in Huntington Beach, California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

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(2)

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A wilderness adventure...

    As a big fan of Ron Carlson's short stories, I was eager to read "The Signal".

    The book is a great tale, one that could easily be true.

    One of Ron Carlson's greatest gifts is that he can fit so much into so little, the book is 184 pages.

    Mack & his estranged wife decide to take one last trip in the mountains of Wyoming. To fish, breathe fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty. Along the way they run into ruthless poachers and a rich madman hell bent on getting what he wants.

    The story is excellent, the vivid descriptions of the wildlife and the mountains are incredible. Like alot of Carlson's stories, it transports right there, you can see, smell and feel everything.

    The story has some open ended details, nothing that you can't put together in your own mind.

    Great writing, good reading!

    I'm looking forward to reading Ron Carlson's other highly acclaimed novel "Five Skies" soon. If your new to Ron Carlson or a fan of short storeis, read "The Hotel Eden / stories" or "Plan B for the Middle Class / stories" by Carlson.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 10, 2011

    Great Book

    Great read. I only gave it 4 stars cause the ending needed work. But overall a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2009

    Fun, Fast, Read

    Plot was good. Characters solid. Ending was somewhat predictable, but enjoyable, nonetheless. You rooted for the protagonist all the way and he didn't disappoint.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

    An Excellent Read

    I really enjoyed The Signal...a great story. Carlson's writing style takes a bit to get used to....he make the assumption you already know the characters...but I loved it. I wanted to know more about these people. Very thought provoking.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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