Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail

T.J. Forrester. Simon & Schuster, $15 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-4391-7561-3
Forrester’s slyly potent second novel (after 2011’s Miracles, Inc.) follows Taz Chavis, an ex-con who returns to his hometown of Hawkinsville, Wyo., after prison. The town is rife with childhood recollections (“my dreams were all about leaving”) and memories of the local cutthroat, drug-addled dogcatcher (aka Taz’s father, who unceremoniously abandoned him). With nothing to lose, Taz decides to realize a goal that began behind bars: to ”walk the Appalachian Trail end to end. Or die trying.” Two others are already on the path: 20-something unemployed scientist Simone, a woman with “a murder gene twisted inside her DNA,” and first-time thru-hiker Richard, a tattooed Blackfoot shaman. The group’s grueling progression becomes marred by the discoveries of fallen hikers whose deaths Taz initially believes were accidental, but he comes to suspect they were murdered. Forrester, who has personally thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, conveys a raw, evocative story through his characters, a few bizarre tangents, and the wilderness that almost swallows everything alive. Along the way, his creative use of flashbacks and literary flourishes elevate this dark novel to deliver a wallop in both prose and premise. Agent: Leigh Feldman, Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/09/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
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