Tracks received mixed reviews at the time of its publication, with most critics identifying Erdrich’s vivid language and narrative structure as either effective or not.
R.Z. Sheppard criticized Erdrich’s use of alternating narratives as too “schematic” and forced – and characterized her graphic descriptions as too “grandiose.” “Crammed into a short, intense novel,” Sheppard wrote, “her characters are too busy hauling symbolic freight to reveal their humanity. Similarly, The New Statesman and Society criticized the novel for being too vivid and heavy-handed with language, writing “[Erdrich’s] linguistic profusion veers toward sentimentalizing a people and their history.”
In The New York Times Book Review, Jean Strouse found Tracks to be “a bit more didactic and wrought” than Erdrich’s previous novels, and more political as well. She also highlighted concerns over whether or not Tracks could even be considered a true novel, since four of its nine chapters had been previously published as short stories – including one, “Snares,” which was controversially published in Best American Short Stories, an anthology that claims it does not admit novel excerpts. Nonetheless, Strouse also praised Erdrich for “centering on life instead of self” in the novel, and called Tracks “a welcome contrast” to much of mainstream 1980s fiction.
Other reviewers responded positively to the novel, including Barbara Hoffert, who called it “splendid," and wrote that Erdrich’s prose is “as sharp, glittering, and to the point as cut glass.” Christopher Vecsey, in Commonweal, compared her writing to the magical realism employed by writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Andrew Welsh-Huggins placed her in the company of contemporary writers like Anne Tyler, John Updike and Toni Morrison. The reviewer for Choice compared her writing style to William Faulkner, identified as Erdrich as one of her favorite authors.