Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The first mention I recall of Charles Frazier dates back years ago, when author Donald Secreast appeared at the Writers Symposium at Caldwell Community College and mentioned that his friend had a novel coming about about the Civil War--"and it's going to be big." I bought a copy of that novel Cold Mountain the week it was released and read it on a trip to China, discovering while there the poems of Han Shan, about another Cold Mountain. Evidently Frazier too had discovered these ancient poems, using one as an epigraph to his first novel.

For me the novel passed an all-important test. I used it in APP Lit class (1. without getting tired of it and (2. finding that it appealed to girls and boys. The book provided so many ways into discussions of style, of foreshadowing, of symbolism. But it was a good story. The movie had it's high points, but as one friend pointed out, "I don't need to see the movie. I've already seen it in my head."

I also enjoyed Thirteen Moons, since I have family interest in the Cherokee and what happened before, during, and after the "Trail of Tears." When Frazier appeared to promote the book as part of the Novello Festival in Charlotte, he also had a Cherokee "wise woman" who had translated the Removal section of that novel into Cherokee--phonetically and in the Cherokee syllabary.

This third book Nightwoods moves forward into the twentieth century, but still takes place in the mountains of Western North Carolina, with a road trip to and from Florida. Again, Frazier introduces engaging characters readers love or love to hate. The protagonist of the story, Luce, lives alone at a lodge, once the vacation site of wealthy mountain vacationers, but long empty, until she ends up with custory of her murdered sisters twins. Lacking the maternal instincts, she finds herself nonetheless determined to break through the walls Frank and Dolores have thrown up.

Frazier brings in Stubblefield, who inherits land and the lodge, upon his grandfather's death. He arrives with memories of a younger Luce from their youth. As he forges his place in his former home, he finds himself entangled in the life at the Lodge.

The novel's antagonist Bud Johnson ends up in the area, seeking the kids after he is acquitted of killing their mother, his late wife. His interest is not in their well-being but in what they may have taken with them and what they might betray--should they choose to speak. He plays as coldhearted a villain as any of the Home Guard in Cold Mountain.

The setting of the novel, mostly across the lake and beyond the small town, moves with the story from late fall to winter, eventually burrowing deep into the mountains, with trees still marking ancient trails to deep darkness. A recurring theme, hinted in the epigraph, is the necessity of being paid, but also of paying: nothing comes without a cost. The motifs of blood --redemptive and punitive--and of fire--giving light and warmth, wreaking destruction--surface throughout the novel as well.

The only bump in the narrative for me came when Frazier juxtaposes two scenes out of time sequences, tricking readers into thinking Bud has found the children in hiding, then tossing him into a campsite of deer hunters, leaving me to try to unravel the significance of the earlier scene.
I suspect that I may want to read the novel again, this time to see how the pieces fit together.

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