Nightwoods is the 1950's tale of Luce, a young woman who has shunned society and chooses to live as a caretaker in a remote cabin in North Carolina. Content to be surrounded by nature, the lake and the mountains, she revels in her solitude until a man from the state department shows up. He has her murdered sister Lily's children in the car and says that as the next of kin, she can either take them in or they go into state-care.
Naturally she chooses to foster them, but they come with more baggage than you could imagine when her sister's ex-husband - Bud - recently & dubiously cleared of a murder-charge shows up looking for the children. Just what does he want?
Nightwoods is fantastically written; the vivid descriptions of the idyllic alpine-setting really allow you to picture the rural homestead. Frazier's descriptions of 1950's North Carolina read like some of the truly great American-authors; all "dipped in cornmeal and fried in lard" like Steinbeck or Salinger, there is even some influence from the beatnik literature scene, reminiscent of Kerouac as the local policeman has a taste for Benzedrine and the locals are fixated with moonshine.
Characters pasts and interactions are brilliantly depicted and this really builds up a great deal of character progression as we see Luce, seemingly frozen solid by her experiences in society, begin to thaw a little. Frazier manages to paint Bud as a formidably evil character without ever straying into exaggeration and as a result, his characters are plausible and truly interesting.
I can't recommend this book highly enough, my only complaint is that it was just the 248 small-print pages long!
Charles Frazier in Nightwoods has managed the same trick again: to tell a big story through a long trail of minute detail and still hold the reader's attention. I'm not sure he's pulled it off as well as Cold Mountain because the story isn't on the same grand historic scale, and at times I wondered why he was telling this story at all. Interesting but at times not interesting enough. A little too similar to so many other novels about the American predicament of senseless violence and that lack of empathy rooted in dysfunctional individualism. But it had a happy ending (I think) and there was never a moment when I was going to quit without finishing the book.
'Luce's new stranger children were small and beautiful and violent. She learned early that it wasn't smart to leave them unattended in the yard with the chickens'.
Frazier's novel opens with beauty and violence and that is one summary of this novel. On one level it is a thriller but it's also a hymn to the beauty of the Appalachian mountains and the life that can be lived there. Luce visits her old neighbours and watches fireworks across a lake and listens to her radio. The pace is leisurely, slowing us down to the lifestyle and immersing us in rich description of the landscape. As in Cold Mountain (Sceptre 21's), he gives space for relationships to grow, and the damaged to regain trust. Her odd and almost feral niece and nephew bring change and responsibility and connection to others. Frazier is also able to sum up well when he ways to a backstory can be drawn in a few sentences - 'Bud and Lily had become a bad match immediately after the hot courtship ended'. The odd idyll is, of course, threatened by the encroaching modern world, represented both by heir Stubblefield, who brings the possibility of love and the twins' stepfather, Bud, who brings violence and greed. Stick with it - this novel has rewards.
Part love story, part thriller, this is a hugely atmospheric story set lovingly in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. It's impossible not to get a feeling for the landscape from this book.
If you have read Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain", or indeed seen the film, then you'll have a fair idea what to expect from his latest offering - "Nightwoods". As with "Cold Mountain", the landscape of the Appalachians is the dominant character, this time set in the 1950s. He even manages to get his requisite bear into the story although thankfully it fares rather better than the unfortunate beast in his first book. The dark, oppressing majesty and beauty of the mountains and woods pervades the whole story.
The story centres around Luce, a loner who lives a reclusive life as the caretaker of an old hunting lodge in North Carolina. Why this young woman has sought the solitude of live on the edge of the lakeside town is explained. It's a sad tale of rural misunderstanding that means that even her father, the local police officer, has no contact with her despite living so close by. When Luce's sister, Lily is murdered, Lily's traumatized twins show up on Luce's doorstep bringing the real world into her life in dramatic ways. The two children don't speak although initially it is unclear if this is a result of their trauma. At around the same time, her benefactor for whom she has been looking after the lodge dies and his grandson comes to the town to check out his inheritance.
The darker element of the story arises when Lily's ex-husband is freed by the court of her murder and, convinced that there is a missing horde of cash which surely the children have, he too arrives in the town.
The book is, then, something of both a romance and a thriller. Trust is hard won in Frazier's rural North Carolina. The development of the relationship between both Luce and the twins, who at first are hell bent on setting everything alight, and Luce and the grandson is slowly drawn out. Initially they are unaware of the threats that present themselves in the form of Lily's ex-husband Bud, but all that is about to change.
The story-telling is convincing but what is most evident is the love for the landscape. In Frazier's novels, often the characters have more communication with the landscape than with each other and this is again true here. Some of the descriptions are beautiful, but if you are looking for a fast paced story, as the basis of this book might lead you to expect, you will be disappointed. Things seldom happen fast in Frazier's books.
Rather, the story simmers along and the sense of drama slowly engulfs the reader like a mountain fog moving down a valley. It has heaps of atmosphere and texture.
on 23 January 2012
I found it difficult to pause in my reading of this engaging novel about a post war community in remote wild country in the USA.
Right from the beginning the author grabs you and makes you both long for a happy outcome yet tense about terrifying threats. Human activity is made to seem antlike in comparison with the overwhelming power of the untamed mountain setting of this multifaceted novel. That is not to say that Frazier is insensitive to generosity, undemonstrative kindness and the need to be loved but he does not shrink from a milieu dominated by selfishness, whether it is apathetically venial or downright evil. It is a community indifferent to the rule of law and uninterested in moral certainty. Isolated and backward the locale may be but the tracing of relationships and their motivation is always worked out with insights that resonate in any society. The book is concerned with the nature of truth but also addresses the horrors perpetrated within families, men's attitudes to women and children, casual violence and existential pragmatism that is recognizable in our own society. Whether it is in his poetic descriptions of wild nature, marked over the centuries by human passage, or the seething history of individuals, Frazier seems to suggest that the here and now is very much the product of the past however much we may wish to escape. The characters live; their dialogue is a joy.
My only regret is that I swallowed it too quickly. I shall read it again...and again.
There's a good argument that Hollywood can taint an author as much as elevate. So having reached the heady heights of cinematic glory from novel one, how does Charles Frazier now read some years later with novel three? And how much will he be judged by newcomers on the back of the monumental to the masses success of Cold Mountain or indeed by the committed Frazier fans? Seems a manageable stone either way.
For this newcomer at least, Frazier is actually much better, so much better, than Jude Law would have you believe...
Nightwoods is all classic American literature. There's as much poetry in the sparsest prose as the unforgiving landscape has natural beauty in the backdrop of the Appalachians in the 1950's. Factor in the broken American dream, the family and society disenfranchisement, the small town lives and loves; big empty hearts in big empty places, both beating strong and steady.
For those looking for a story, it's all hung on a lonely spinster inheriting damaged twins in a lodge she neither owns nor loves, haunted by a past and present nasty hicksville brother in law bent on justifying his life by violence and jealousy. Probably story seekers may still just get bored and irritable by the lack of pace and gun ho. Fair enough but Nightwoods is not a roller coaster ride and it's not intended to be; for the patient, sit back and watch its fire slowly crackle and burn down to see sparks enough.
Nightwoods is a deeply thoughtful novel but for all its subtle crackle won't quite set the world alight. What it does is confirm Charles Frazier as one of the finer chroniclers of American life and, hopefully, a fan base that will follow the ride.
Certainly this one won't be for everyone so don't be swayed by reviewers who found it too dull. It's far from it and in a small but important way, a vigorously lazy vibrant cold night life affirmer.
After the phenomenal success of "Cold Mountain", the odyssey of a soldier's return from the American Civil War, it must be hard for Charles Frazier to achieve comparable success.
Although on a much smaller scale, "Nightwoods" is similar in showing Frazier's gift for spinning a yarn and displaying his deep knowledge of and love for the Appalachian wilderness combined with a sense of small town life in a rural backwater, portrayed with some sharp, witty dialogue and an ability to make unsavoury or even evil characters appear at times in some ways objects of sympathy.
It is sometime round 1960 when Gene Pitney was a rising popstar on the juke box. Luce is a tough young woman who is for some reason living in isolation from the town visible across the lake from the old lodge which she looks after for an old landowner called Stubblefield. Her hard but peaceful routine is disrupted by the appearance of "the stranger children", in fact the badly damaged young twins of her brutally murdered sister Lily. Luce's psychopathic brother -in-law Bud has a particular reason for tracking down these children. Meanwhile, following Stubblefield's death, his ne'er- do- well heir comes back to claim the inheritance. This is clearly the basis for a potentially tense thriller.
I was rapidly sucked in by not only the plot, but also the vivid, poetical descriptions of the mountainous wilderness of North Carolina, the sense of past history back even before the time of the Indians, the survival of a self-sufficient rural way of life, the neglected lodge - a vestige of the wealthy tourists from bygone days - and the inward-looking life of the small town enveloped in the backwoods with only tenuous road connections to the outside world.
Always a page turner, although some reviewers have found it slow at times, the story is never quite predictable since you know that Frazier is capable of including sudden acts of unexpected brutality and horror cheek by jowl with quite soft-centred or even sentimental passages.
Although I was a little disappointed by Frazier's handling of the plot from the point where Luce meets Bud face-to-face, since I thought that the potential drama often fell rather flat, this was offset by some unexpected twists, and I suspect that Frazier is really more interested in reflecting on the effects of "modern progress" and exploring the human psyche than he is in structuring a story. The final pages in practice prove quite tense.
Another slight reservation is that both Luce and Stubblefield Jnr. seem to undergo some rather rapid changes of attitude, but in a relatively short and spare novel perhaps we have to "take this as given" to leave space for Frazier's other ideas.
on 30 October 2011
Frazier had success with Cold Mountain, and returns here to the Appalachian mountains that dominated that book. The story is of Luce, a reclusive woman with some sort of past, suddenly dealing with her sister's traumatised children, and a possible threat from her husband's ex.
The mood, pacing and description in this book are excellent. There is a genuine love for the area and its natural beauty, and a heartfelt understanding of the qualities and difficulties of living in small-town America. Luce herself is an excellent character - self-contained yet somehow vulnerable, smart but not perfect, attuned to the idea of just trying to muddle through life. Frazier creates a genuine dilemma for her in dealing with the children; one that he does not try to solve with pat and trite solutions.
This is a book to wallow in rather than be thrilled by; it is paced and spaced out to be something that you sit inside, rather than watch from the edge of your seat. Ultimately, it has a thriller-based ending, but overall you will enjoy this book if you want to proceed at the pace of the narrative, rather than rush to a conclusion.
Drawbacks? With the exception of the evil Bud, none of the other characters spring sufficiently to life. Luce should not stand out to the degree she does; but she does so and this means that other characters have been under-written. In addition, I saw the actual denouement coming.
But overall, this is a fine novel and a hugely satisfying read.
It's a long time now since I read 'Cold Mountain', Charles Frazier's acclaimed first novel, but I remember it as an intense, immersive read, persuading the reader to slow to the pace of its narrators and truly take in the details of the mountains in which they find themselves. That same powerful writing is present in 'Nightwoods' - but it's coupled with a rather cliched plot-line that, in my opinion, weakens this otherwise excellent novel. Luce, a young woman living by herself in an isolated lakeside lodge, finds that she has to take on her sister Lily's children after Lily is murdered by her husband. In a second thread, Bud, the murderer, newly paroled, seeks out the children, as he believes they have the money that Lily took from him shortly before he killed her. Luce's attempts to build a relationship with the children are related alongside Bud's journey to the town where they live and his forging of relationships with the locals through his self-appointed post as bootlegger, including local sheriff Lit, Luce's father.
I found the first half of this novel utterly compelling. Frazier beautifully evokes the isolated area of North Carolina in the 1950s that is his setting, and his treatment of Luce's story is equally well-written. Although Bud is a less interesting character than Luce, the careful attention to practical detail in his plotline removed it from the realm of thriller and made me want to read on; for example, when on the run from a couple of minor robberies, he decides to dump the too-recognisable car he's driving: 'He knew enough about sinking cars from teenage joyriding to roll the windows down and open the trunk and hood.' Frazier brings locations to life through imaginative and unexpected descriptions, such as the Roadhouse bar which a number of the characters pass through, where 'Daylight blared gritty through the opened door and cast a vampire-killing trapezoid onto the nineteenth-century wood floor', or a distorted view of impossibly tall mountains; 'Have to be in Tibet to validate some of those upper peaks.' Luce is similarly illuminated through brief recounting of incidents from her past, such as a high school classmate's memory of her competing in a beauty pageant - something completely at odds with her present-day life.
Unfortunately, I found my interest waning somewhat in the second half of the novel, although it was still a good read. Bud's search for the money became the focus of the narrative, and this plot felt over-familiar to me - a re-hash of 'The Night of the Hunter' or any number of other stories involving orphaned children and greedy villains. Given the importance of this plot thread, however, it seemed to be resolved rather too easily. Frazier's writing is still fantastic - a scene involving Bud and a group of ageing hunters high in the mountains is particularly well-evoked - and so to an extent, the weak plot is carried, but I found myself questioning why we needed it. For me, the parallel lives of Luce, Bud and a couple of other characters were enough to hold my interest - there seemed no need to attempt a thriller-type climax to what is, like 'Cold Mountain', an intense novel precisely because the reader needs to adapt to its particular pace.
Despite these criticisms, I still thought this was a fine novel, and would highly recommend it to fans of 'Cold Mountain'. I've also now been persuaded to check out Frazier's second novel, 'Thirteen Moons', as it's obvious that his talent wasn't just a flash in the pan.
Luce is a loner; after a tough upbringing (to put it mildly), she has decided to have as little to do with people as possible so her job as a caretaker in a delapidated former holiday cabin in North Carolina suits her perfectly. One day a county official arrives at her home, bringing with him two young children belonging to Luce's sister Lily, who has recently been murdered, and Luce feels she has no choice but to take them in. The children are so traumatised by what they have witnessed that they cannot (or will not) speak.
The story that follows is a touching and very engaging one. Gradually Luce and the children learn to be at ease with one another and accept each other's strange habits. There's even a love interest for Luce and everything seems to be going well, but danger is never very far away - in this case in the form of Bud, Lily's murderous ex-husband.
It's a tense read at times, but also beautifully descriptive of the remote North Carolinan scenery and with characters I really came to care about. I enjoyed Cold Mountain when I read it a few years ago but remember struggling to stay engaged with some of the lengthy descriptive parts. I had no such trouble with Nightwoods and zipped through it in a couple of days.