Book Review Solitario –The Lonely One
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A rich revival of beloved characters whose narratives smoothly intertwine
Solitario: The Lonely One continues the story of charming river guide Robbie Ducharme, the hero of John Manuel’s previous book The Lower Canyons. Familiar but fresh, this novel brings the same level of excitement and adventure as its predecessor but in an entirely new environment, with characters old and new.
In the two years following Robbie’s last run of the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, unresolved conflicts have been boiling beneath the surface. Robbie has been dealing with depression and anxiety from the disastrous results of his final tour, his relationship with Carmen has been suffering, his love for Janey has been rekindling, and the bad blood between he and Danny Gallagher is threatening to resurface.
Author John Manuel proves once again that he excels at weaving narratives together and creating characters rooted in intense desires and painful pasts.
Robbie still hasn’t forgiven himself for his failures as a leader two years ago on the river, but he has been able to successfully lead many canoeing groups since then, and his business is starting to thrive.
At the start of the novel, his season has come to an end and he is dreading an empty summer at home. But then he receives a call from the Sheriff’s office with news that his past client, Danny Gallagher, has filed a charge against him for assault and battery. What he thought would be a dreadfully aimless summer has all at once turned into a reliving of those past events that have haunted him so greatly.
He must call Janey, the woman he fell in love with during that fateful trip, to reach her daughter Lara who was also on the tour. Lara agrees to serve as a witness in the trial, and their allegiance to him is as strong as it was two years ago. Robbie realizes how much that trip has stuck with all of them, and from this reconnecting, he offers Lara the chance to work under him as his assistant on the river.
The climate has changed though, and instead of their familiar Lower Canyons trip, the new heavy rainfall leads them to explore a desert arroyo that has never been encountered before. Robbie is always a prepared and strong leader, but the nature of West Texas doesn’t yield to anyone. He will have to face new difficult challenges which could threaten the lives of not only the trusting clients of his group, but also the daughter of the love of his life.
John Manuel’s story is both earthly and otherworldly. We rely on what we know of nature as a means to survive in the wild, but Manuel reminds us of how this can be mystical and inexplicable. Robbie and the others think they can control their environment, but every day, they are reminded of the opposite.
Manuel has a way of jolting his readers into the truth. We are one tiny speck in the universe, and while at times we feel wildly insignificant, we must still handle our lives and the lives of others with care and respect. The characters are faced with decisions which reveal who they truly are—someone who chooses to protect the lives around them, or someone who is willing to put it all at risk for their own personal gain.
I’d recommend Solitario: The Lonely One to anyone who enjoys a wild, intertwining narrative that doesn’t promise to neatly tie up loose ends. Manuel is more interested in following the journey of complex humans who are always evolving and pushing forward, whether they realize it or not.
The author’s admiration for the nature of West Texas and particularly the relics found in such precious territory is palpable, and he creates in us a sense of reverence for land that most of us have never even seen. He pulls at our wandering spirits through Robbie’s unrelenting sense of adventure, and he makes us want to go out and touch the desert, the canyons, the stars, the sky.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Literary / Thriller / Action Adventure
Print Length: 216 pages
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