US Review of Books: Trails and Tales of Sanderson, Texas

US Review of Books: Trails and Tales of Sanderson, Texas

Congratulations to Trails and Tales of Sanderson, Texas written by Cleo W. Robinson, Jr. for receiving a RECOMMENDED rating from the US Review of Books.

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REVIEW:

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“Judy replied with a laugh. ‘You stay here long enough, and you’ll become a certified character, too.'”

In the middle of the 20th century, Sanderson, Texas, is a small sleepy town that can support itself but is still isolated enough for all the residents to have some kind of social bond. Molly Brown is a mysterious young woman who arrives by bus with no money, few possessions, and no direction. Spending all of her money on the bus ticket, Molly discovers Sanderson is as far as she can go. Entering the Turner Cafe, Molly shyly orders a meal with no idea how she’ll pay for it. The proprietress of the establishment, Lou Smith, recognizes a bit of herself in Molly and offers her a job and lodgings. That’s how small-town life works: you take care of each other.

To Molly’s surprise, her life’s direction begins to quickly take shape as she meets the colorful characters who populate the city. There are the Border Patrol agents, a closely-knit group of lawmen who take their jobs seriously but also know when to push the issue and when to ease up. Among them is Greg Johnson, also fresh in town after being reassigned from El Paso after a dangerous shootout. Then there’s Doc Cody, the town’s young physician who treats every malady he’s equipped to handle, earning the trust of the residents as he goes. Punch, Blacky, and Birthday are three old cowpokes who add some colorful banter and levity to everyday life in Sanderson, but in each of their pasts is a tragic moment they hold secret and would sooner forget. All of these individuals fit together and support each other through the good times and the bad, making the best of things as they come in a sleepy western town.

Every chapter in this story is a vignette of one of the residents of Sanderson’s lives. Sometimes these stories connect and intertwine; at other times, they merely fill in the gaps or shine a light on someone relevant to the larger narrative. This approach makes every character seem valuable in what could have easily just been a blossoming love story between Molly and Greg. The tone of each chapter varies as well, allowing some characters to shine in comedic roles while others reveal a darker background that pulls the reader’s emotions and makes their scenes all the more powerful. One would expect this bouncing of character focus and storytelling style to be jarring, but Robinson handles it deftly, not as a flourish or a challenge but simply because that’s how life is: some days you’re having a laugh at some mischief or pranks; other days you’re doing what you have to just to survive.

The tone of the story isn’t overly nostalgic, beating readers over the head with the glory of a simpler time. This is owed in part to focusing on the characters rather than the setting, and, in part, because in many ways life in an isolated, smaller town hasn’t changed much. The desire for a little privacy and a little space combined with close-knit relationships with one’s neighbors is what fuels the character of Sanderson itself on these pages, more so than the date on the calendar. All things considered, the principal storyline of Molly and Greg’s arrival in town and attraction to each other is powerful enough to stand on its own, but it is made all the sweeter by the depth and honesty of each character that appears. This story picks the reader’s spirits up like a fresh cup of coffee, energizing and filling them with hope for a friendlier, simpler world.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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