... one of the most formally surprising — and successfully so — debuts I’ve read in years ... In chronicling these journeys, Porter moves back and forth through characters and time at an impressive clip, writing with authority, insight and humor. A captivating storyteller, Porter proves as intelligent an observer of the startling shapes a lifetime can take as its most intimate and unforgettable moments ... The narration shifts into various modes of storytelling with delightful facility... It is no small delight, either, to read Porter’s consistently excellent and energetic dialogue ... What happens when a novel takes an ethical stance against sidelining a character? When it attempts to give each glancing soul a glimmer of full humanity? The answer is something that looks very much like life itself, especially in these messy and overwhelmingly interconnected times — if not like very many novels in the Western tradition. Sometimes, the result can feel too much like a jigsaw puzzle, drawing the reader’s attention away from the emotional heart to piecing together how this person is related to that...But most of the time, the complexity and richness of The Travelers is simply stunning, not a ruse but the singular product of a capacious intellect and generous curiosity.
... [a] sprawling, sparkling debut novel ... Porter’s tale abandons chronology to freewheel through time and place, in a series of seemingly random vignettes that loop through and around one another like knitting, veering off into new patterns, picking up dropped stitches of plot. Children reappear as lovers, lovers as negligent grandparents. Peripheral characters are brought abruptly into the foreground, new ones arrive without introduction to take centre stage. Events are revealed in screenplay form or through exchanged letters. It’s not always easy to keep track of who’s who...and there are moments when technical virtuosity tips over into tricksiness. On the whole, however, this is an exhilarating ride. Porter is a wickedly astute chronicler of human foibles and her sharp writing is often mordantly funny. It also brims with compassion. In her hands, this series of glimpses feels something like life itself: a tangled, involving, frustratingweave in which we know things briefly, intensely and at the same time not at all, and we are all both the heroes of our own stories and the extras in other people’s.
American history comes to vivid, engaging life in this tale of two interconnected families (one white, one black) that spans from the 1950s to Barack Obama’s first year as president. The backdrop of events may be familiar (the Vietnam War, racial protests in the ’60s), but the complex, beautifully drawn characters are unique and indelible.
Porter upends any expectations of the traditional family saga by constantly shape-shifting ... Most things, however, don’t necessarily come full circle, resolve or round out — and that’s not a criticism. Sometimes a dark thing happens on a country road, and that’s that. The officer and the victim — or the victim’s family — move on with their lives. This lack of neatness feels closer to real life than most family sagas, whose stories often tidy up with easy reconciliation or syrupy sentimentalism. But those endings often detract from an otherwise complex story. And complexity is one thing Porter knows well.
...while there are compelling and moving episodes, the narrative is so piecemeal and rushed that any cohesive story is extraordinarily elusive, particularly if you don’t read the book in one sitting. The result is a novel that manages to be both skeletal and repetitious ... chapters skip around in time, bouncing from person to person. There is no apparent stylistic or narrative benefit to this approach; it simply feels like the chapters were dropped on the ground and picked up at random ... Certainly nothing says a novel need be organized linearly, or even coherently, but when the reader must still refer back to that cast of characters at the end of the book, the author has missed the mark.
The novel moves fluidly between an omniscient narrator and a vast range of first- and close third-person perspectives, displaying Porter’s uncanny facility for voice ... Most striking is the novel’s keen understanding of history, not as a passive set of inevitable circumstances but as the actions of individuals, their choices limited or empowered: why people live in certain neighborhoods, take or refuse jobs, migrate, marry, even murder. Porter shows that it matters whether the encounters that define us happen in Venice Beach in 1986, in the 'only gay squat house in Berlin' in the 1970s, on a deserted road in Buckner County, Georgia in 1966, or on that same road after its gentrification in the 1990s. The inclusion of photographs and artefacts, such as contemporaneous advertisements and book covers, along with the assured, journalistic detail brought to each scene, make these characters seem like real people. Rather than one family, they seem to make up a cross-section of human history, the novel an excerpt of that near infinite story. The reader is left with the impression Regina Porter could illustrate any other set of lives equally well. The Travelers is a rare debut that heralds what should be a long and promising career.
... electric ... The various points of view are valuable, yet it is difficult to get a sense of whom most characters really are. Still, readers will certainly be drawn in by Porter’s sharp writing and kept hooked by the black-and-white photographs interspersed throughout the book, which give faces to the evocative voices.
Porter’s fantastic debut novel is a whirl of characters spidering outward through time and space ... There are several [storylines], and while they are each gripping and vivid in their own ways, so much action crowds the book. There isn’t enough space to get to know the characters; put another way, there’s a distancing between the narrator and the characters—Agnes in particular—as though they are being held at arm’s length. We see them from the outside, not the inside, even when they are narrating their own stories ... Beautifully written and intricately plotted, Porter’s novel falters only when she seems to step back from her characters, to stand at the edge of the water instead of jumping in.
... expansive and ambitious ... These individual stories, among many others, are memorable, but the novel’s sprawling structure and abundance of narrative perspectives engender an emotional distance from all but the most stirring scenes, not to mention a lack of unifying theme or narrative arc for readers to latch onto. Virtually any of the novel’s beautifully written chapters could excel as a short story; collectively, they fall short of a fully realized novel.