January Read of the Month: “Traces” by Patricia L. Hudson

Combining the action of the finest suspense novels with the intense family drama of the best women’s fiction, Patricia Hudson’s historical novel Traces (University of Kentucky Press 2022) is a riveting read underpinned by twenty-five years of impeccable research. The novel was a finalist for the Weatherford Award (losing to Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead) and has been longlisted for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. It deserves every accolade that is sure to come its way.

The story retells Daniel Boone’s saga through the eyes of his wife, Rebecca, and her two oldest daughters, Susannah and Jemima—and what a different story it is as seen through the eyes of women.

Imagine being abandoned for two years in an isolated cabin with a passel of children with no word as to whether your husband is alive or dead. That is the heart of Rebecca’s story. It is also a tale of the losses she suffers accompanying her husband into the wilderness. While most of us will never face the same challenges as Rebecca, Hudson also reveals deep insights into the nature of all marriages through Rebecca’s voice: “As she stood in that sun-swept graveyard, it dawned on her that marriage was not about choosing one’s partner just once, but over and over again.” Here, Rebecca chooses once again to stay at her husband’s side, even as she visits her first-born son’s grave. Hudson also addresses the harm that rumors of infidelity cause to the family over the years. The rumors arise because of Daniel’s absence and the necessity of Rebecca’s leaning on her brother-in-law Ned for help to keep her children fed.

The daughters round out the viewpoints beautifully and introduce interesting themes. Susannah’s husband beats her when he is drunk, and she transforms from a feisty girl into a shadow of a woman. In contrast, Jemima was a quiet, observant child who grows in confidence and strength as she endures hardships such as being captured by Indians and being subjected to stigma of possibly being the product of her mother’s adultery.

An Indian woman, Nonhelema, adds depth to the tale, as well. She says, “When I was young, I fought alongside our warriors, but I came to see that fighting solved nothing. Since then, I’ve worked for peace between our peoples.” She teaches Rebecca that there is good and bad in people of all races.

Patricia L. Hudson

Hudson introduces lovely observations seamlessly into the story, such as this one: “What’s written down takes on the seeming-ness of truth, she thought, but truth is a slippery thing—one’s lucky to catch a glimpse of it, like the sliver flash of a brook trout just below the water’s surface.” In the Afterword, she says she was fortunate enough to be taught by two Appalachian literary giants, Harriette Arnow and Wilman Dykeman, and her work was edited by another literary giant, Silas House. Small wonder, then, that this book is such a magnificent achievement.

Patricia L. Hudson is a freelance writer and former contributing editor for Americana magazine. She is also the author of Inns of the Southern Mountains, coeditor of Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia, and coauthor of The Carolinas and the Appalachian States, a volume in the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America series.

To learn more about the research and writing of Traces, go to Patricia-Hudson.com. There you will find a downloadable map for readers to print out to help folks follow along during the Boones’ constant moves.

Leave a Reply