“THE TRAP” – JOHN SMELCER
Caught in one of his own bear-traps, an elderly Alaskan gent hopes and prays that his doting seventeen-year-old grandson will rush to his rescue before he perishes either as a result of freezing to death or being eaten. As dark a premise as “The Trap” wields, the short, sharp novel brims with a succession of truly beautiful moments buoyed up by hearty tenderness.
While the missing man’s wife stews in a small village many miles distant, the man reflects on his life, wondering if he’s on the verge of relinquishing it. Relying on his broad knowledge of bush-craft, he does what he can to survive, tearing branches from the nearest tree so he can lie down for the night without having to splay his aged bones directly on the snow beneath him. Fashioning a fire, he braces himself for a night that seems to have no end as wolves approach, feeling as hungry as he does. Exposed to raw nature in the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska, it really does boil down to survival of the fittest.
Back in the village, the man’s grandson is dissuaded from heading up to the trap-line by a relative, his uncle believing that the time and effort expended in making the journey will be wasted. Consequently, the young man waits a couple of days before Instinct forces him to jump on his snow-mobile to pioneer a frantic search that could be of the ‘too little, too late’ variety.
Bringing the harsh Alaskan landscapes to life with stunning clarity, the novelist in Smelcer is ever-keen to remind the reader that the man caught in the trap is at nature’s mercy in every respect. Those who have read “The Call of The Wild” will find themselves languishing in all-too-familiar territory, the freezing temperatures of the locations feeling all too real owing to the strength of Smelcer’s descriptive passages.
Racing towards a truly exhilarating climax, the story becomes a riveting race against time as the man’s grandson attempts to reach his grandfather before ravenous wolves take a meaty piece of him. Indeed, the final few pages read like a bona fide Thriller of the highest calibre as the grandson and the wolves dart towards the trapped man from different directions.
Peppered with reams of Native American philosophy, “The Trap” represents a masterfully told story that’s genuinely as unforgettable as a cover-planted quote renders its contents.