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The Signal

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  791 ratings  ·  187 reviews
A beautifully written and suspenseful tale of love and peril by an award-winning writer

Backpacking into the Wind River Mountains on their tenth annual trip, Mack and his wife, Vonnie, find the magnificent woods and stunning mountains of Wyoming full of ghosts and danger. Mack comes from a long line of ranchers, and his dedication to keeping the family land has led him int
Hardcover, 184 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Viking Penguin
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Average rating 3.41  · 
Rating details
 ·  791 ratings  ·  187 reviews

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Brian Anderson
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I must confess a soft spot for this book, having backpacked some of the same territory that estranged couple Mack and Vonnie traverse in this short and (somewhat) sweet novel. Carlson does a wonderful job of creating a sense of place and giving the reader enough technical jargon to put them squarely in the Wyoming back country. His style of dialogue is clipped and spare, and this, combined with vivid descriptions of the rugged terrain Mack and Vonnie cross, gives the story a style and voice all ...more
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
(Disclaimer: I'm writing this having read the ARC about four months ago, so there aren't a lot of details, but I do strongly remember my reaction to the book as a whole.)

I really wanted to like this book. In fact, I really did like parts of it, especially the ones that talk about mundane bits of walking around, etc. But the plot just didn't work for me. It was too obvious, too damsel-in-distress-y, too predictable. Although certain scenes carried a tense weight to them, I never really worried ab
Jul 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one is a one day read, but very engrossing. Not your typical cowboy story by a long shot! The author has done several short story collections, so this is properly a novella. The sparse language makes the plot twists all the more surprising, sort of like finding that hidden canyon on the long hike in!
Shawn Remfrey
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: home-library
What an unusual story! I think I enjoyed it but I'm left with this feeling like everything isn't quite resolved so I'm not actually sure.

It seems to be the story of a man searching for redemption. I'm all for that. Most of the characters are pretty solid and interesting. Vonnie is a different story. Most of the time I was just shaking my head at her and whispering 'What??' She goes from sensible and sturdy to bougie and spiteful at the drop of a hat. I don't like her. I really enjoyed Mack, the
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Really wanted to like this...but no. Was not into this. I have a rule that if I roll my eyes at how a female character is written by a male author more than 3 times in the first 50 pages, I bail. So that happened. I’d recommend reading some of the longer reviews on here.

If you’re into landscape of the west, this might have something for you?
Jonathan Gruber
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
really interesting book. Incredible writing that sometimes got in the way of what was not a super strong plot. But amazing imagery and sense of place made it a great read
Feb 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
The only thing going for this book was the fact that it's short in length. The back cover sells it as a love story, with intrigue, but the only mystery is why this couple -- who are already divorced, with one in a new relationship -- would agree to go camping together in the first place.

Mack, the annoying male lead in this melodrama, is constantly ragging on his ex, because of what her new beau purchased for her. "Oh, nice camera. Did Kent buy that for you?" "Those are expensive binoculars! Did
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a short mystery novel set in the great outdoors of Wyoming, involving lots and lots of hiking and wilderness. Strengths: the characters and their banter, and the great outdoors setting. I thought the writing involving the setting was splendid. Made me feel like I was there hiking along with them, breathing the mountain air, feeling the crackling fire, and seeing the fantastic vistas. I really liked the character of Vonnie (the female lead) - she was a spitfire, and lobbed wisecracks rig ...more
Larry H
A beautifully written, slightly odd and at times frustrating book. Ron Carlson is another writer with an amazing talent for creating beautiful landscapes from words and he has the ability to create amazing tension out of nowhere. (See his last book, Five Skies, for proof.)

This book tells the story of Mack, a rancher struggling to make ends meet, both financially and emotionally, and his now-estranged wife, Vonnie. Despite their estrangement, they meet to hike some trails, fish and spend some tim
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Good summer reading for those who like outdoorsy, adventure stuff. The novel is set in the rugged Wind River range of WY. The main character, Mack, is a really broken guy. He and Vonnie have backpacked the same trail every September for nine years, but this year, the tenth, is different because they are no longer a couple. Vonnie sees the five day trip as closure and a chance to fish high country lakes. Mack wants a second chance with Vonnie and something else. That something else is the princip ...more
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this short novel; whisked me away to the wilderness of Wyoming so that I felt far removed from everyday life(always a good trait for a book). I didn't realize that the novel has been promoted as a mystery or thriller. Although there are some tense moments, the beauty of the book is the descriptions of the mountains of Wyoming. Mack, a down-on-his-luck rancher, invites his ex-wife, Vonnie, to join him on their annual hiking trip. The book covers each day of their hike as they trave ...more
Sep 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, contemporary
This is set in the area around Jackson, Wyoming, and it was fun to hear places mentioned that I've been on ski trips. The story was not so much fun, but it was interesting and a bit sad yet not depressing. I think it would have been better without some of the more action-adventurey elements in the plot. ...more
Sep 21, 2009 rated it liked it
The Signal has some farfetched plot angles that are annoying. The writing is beautiful. Carlson has attempted to write a thriller. He would have been better off focusing on the characters and their relationships. I have no idea why a girl named Amy has been added to the story. The protagonist is very well developed. The ending is hurried.
Luke Johnson
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
With most books, I feel like descriptions on the back and dust jacket are prone to exageration. It's got something do with all the adjectives that get thrown around like "gripping", "incredible debut", "the new voice of..." etc etc. However, with Ron Calson's The Signal it's just the opposite. Instead of throwing out praise you get this concise little description:

"Beleaguered rancher Mack has taken to crime in order to preseve his family land, and his fiercely independent wife feels her love ero
This was a short novel, taking place over less than a full week, six days. The two main characters Mack and his recently ex-wife Vonnie are out on one last fishing trip. This fishing trip, is more a backpacking trip that they have done annually for the past ten years. A lot of memories, or as they say in the book, full of ghosts. They do stop and go places where they often have been before.

The language of the book is wonderful to read. The setting of the Wyoming mountains are great. The people,
Ron Charles
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Back in olden days, before we started worrying about the survival of novels, we used to worry about the survival of novels for men. But that battle was lost so long ago that we should declare the field a national park and open a visitors' center (Look, kids -- Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his "Pygmy" vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that "when women stop reading, t ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ron Carlson's protagonist, Mack, heads out on a camping trip in the Wyoming mountains.

Upon his father's death, Mack inherited his family's Wyoming ranch. Before long, the ranch was in trouble. It threatens to slip right out of his hands unless he can come up with a few thousand dollars. Mack turns to shady dealings hoping to raise the money that will fix his troubles.

In fact, there's more to this camping trip than admiring nature. Mack is up to something suspicious out there in the wilderness. H
Bill H.
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I actually like his one more than the acclaimed Five Skies, I guess because the wonderful attention to the outdoors (the Wind River range), hiking forms around very human conflicts--a young man who wants to save the homeplace, hiking with his ex-wife. To that relational drama, add a private possibly dangerous mission and some bad guys poaching, and you have a thriller in which a person's ability to track, orienteer, and poise come into play, against the odds. Nicely done! ...more
Sep 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Suspenseful...great description of the woods, mountains and valleys...The plot's backstory is alluded to in bits and flashbacks and discussions of past mistakes. The crazy thing is that there is always an undercurrent, a tension regarding what's going to happen. We know all the characters have potential to destroy the peaceful nature of an innocent reunion/farewell hike. Who's going to do it, and why? As far as the meaning of "the signal," I'm not sure... ...more
Christine Schmidt
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not quite as powerful as Five Skies, which I so loved, but still carries the terse, intense love of the land. The ending was not as gutwrenching. I will read anything by Ron Carlson.
Was really surprised to find the author lives in Huntington Beach CA, not Wyoming.
Kerry Benson
His language gives me a very visual experience and the description of nature in the wilderness is extraordinary. The plot turns into a somewhat grisly thriller with an interesting twist to the relationship of a couple who broke up and meet for an intense saga in the woods.
John Bond
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is great to find a writer you never heard of. Loved the book. What a unique voice he has. Nicely done.
Ellen Marcoux
Sep 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Engaging plot and characters, lovely descriptions of the Wind River Range. I especially enjoyed the portrait of the protagonist's father, an old school rancher. ...more
Nov 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Tell well, just a little boring. Very straightforward. But I liked the jackson Hole references and the Wind River mountains.
Justin Groot
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful descriptions of nature!!
Kevin Middaugh
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Light read. Lots of western mountain plot.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it did not like it
Beautiful imagery, but a slow read nonetheless.
Feb 10, 2010 rated it liked it
"The Signal:" Ron Carlson Charms a Reluctant Reader

Sometimes a key element in a novel -- the main character, the setting, etc. -- can be so inherently appealing to a particular reader that the book's success is guaranteed before the author earns it page by page. If an author's topic and the reader's interests coalesce, it's not that difficult for the story to capture the reader's approval and simply coast forward on a wave of good will.

This being the case, I must applaud the skill with which Ron
Keytrice Castro
Apr 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ron Carlson’s The Signal, published by Viking Penguin in 2009, is a captivating story of a picturesque cowboy, Mack, on his final fishing trip with his ex-wife, Vonnie. The two met while he was just a hand at his father’s ranch; by then he knew everything about the forests around him as if he lived in them—and he practically did. His earthly experience and her deep curiosity drew them together as each summer passed, and soon they were in love, making the best they could with what they had. As Ca ...more
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Published by Viking Adult, May 28 2009.
"The Signal" by Ron Carlson is a constant escapade of one man’s personal issues in relation to his life and the people revolved around him. The book consistently represents different problems, whether past or present, which build upon each other to create a conclusive and suspenseful ending. Carlson’s descriptive writing brings out the setting and provides fruitful explanations of nature and the freedom from civilization while camping in the forests.
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Ron Carlson is an American novelist and writer of short stories.

Carlson was born in Logan, Utah, but grew up in Salt Lake City. He earned a masters degree in English from the University of Utah. He then taught at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut where he started his first novel.

He became a professor of English at Arizona State University in 1985, teaching creative writing to undergraduates and

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