The Travelers by Regina Porter is a sprawling book covering six decades in the history of two families, one white and one black, as generations grow up against the backdrop of America, from the Vietnam War to Obama’s presidency, from Georgia to New York and California. The two families are connected through one married couple, but both sides of the tree spread widely and include a broad range of people. Chapters are more like interconnected stories, as characters come and go and different threads are picked up and dropped throughout the book.
The Travelers is a tough book to sum up. There are so many characters and so many stories happening at once. The end result is a kaleidescope of love, betrayal, racism, joy and sorrow, seen through many relationships and life events. Porter is a playwright – which explains the (helpful) long cast of characters listed at the beginning of the book – and while she is expert and setting up powerful scenes, she may not yet have mastered the longer story arc. I found the chapters compelling on their own, but looking back a week after I finished the book, I am having trouble remembering many elements of it. Certain moments stand out for me, but my overall recall is pretty uneven.
Porter avoids stereotyping her characters; you won’t find predictable tropes here. In this way, The Travelers feels like real life – messy relationships that are often hard to define, great variation within families, conflicts that are never resolved. Readers who approach the book without expectations of a concrete linear story will enjoy an impressionistic, almost poetic experience rather than a deep, detailed read.
Nicole and I recently discussed The Travelers on the Readerly Report Podcast as our August book club read. Give it a listen to learn more!