Originally published October 2019
Sometimes, time is just where life takes you.
For the cast of characters — and it’s a lengthy one — in Regina Porter’s “The Travelers,” time plays a pivotal role in each of their intersecting lives. And its in this span of about 60 years that readers get to immerse themselves in the Vincent, Applewood, Williams, Christie and Camphor families.
A debut book from an Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum, “The Travelers” is both a series of intimate, personally-focused vignettes and about the engrossing power of family, all at once. Porter takes great care in not forcing the connection between the characters, instead letting the story unfold on its own, across time and geography. Readers begin with an introduction to the Vincent clan — Jimmy Sr. and his son “The man James.” From there, we travel south to Georgia and meet Agnes Miller, daughter of a deacon, her friend and roommate Eloise and her first love, Claude.
And less than 30 pages in, you’re hooked when a seminal event forces lives and love to diverge from one another. I don’t like to give too much away in a review, and it would be easy to go down a rabbit hole trying to describe the storyline much more — Porter’s story bounces back and forth between characters and decades, making it impossible to think linearly about how the story advances. That said, everyone that reads “The Travelers” is sure to find a character or a moment that is relatable. It could be:
- A PTSD-affected vet trying to connect to his daughters through Shakespeare; or
- The only daughter of a Coney Island barkeep beaten down emotional and physically by her creepy husband; or
- The son of a couple interested only in keeping up appearances; or
- A woman coming to terms with her own sexuality, brokenhearted and determined; or
- A half-brother attracted to his sibling’s wife; or
- A daughter that fails to understand why her mother doesn’t love her best.
And that’s just a handful of the people you’ll meet and come to care about when reading this book. The manner in which the story plays out makes it feel like a gift when characters and storylines intersect — which makes it engaging and easy to keep turning pages instead of setting the book down. At just over 300 pages, “The Travelers” is a solid weekend read and book club-worthy in its content. There’s a lot to digest and I’m sure wildly varying reactions from one reader to another. I had this on my nightstand for easily the last three-plus months and I’m glad I committed to it instead of the four other library books I just checked out. (Who gets just one book at the library? That’s silly.)
“The Travelers” will have me thinking about the intersections in my life for a very long time. If you ever find yourself throwing a pity party and wondering if you’ve ever had an impact, well … the answer is yes.