In his latest novel "Nightwoods", Charles Frazier returns to the same bleak, quiet Appalachian landscape that he introduced readers to in "Cold Mountain". However, unlike his celebrated earlier work of fiction, there is an almost timeless quality in "Nightwoods", a story that could have taken place as easily during the midst of the Civil War or sometime late, in the Twentieth Century. Instead Frazier drops subtle hints (e. g. a reference to the film "The Defiant Ones") that it is set in the late 1950s, in a rural Appalachia that is virtually indistinguishable from the one described in "Cold Mountain" rendered vividly in a sparse, often lyrical, prose that will remind readers of Cormac McCarthy's recent work, especially "The Road"; a comparison that is most apt since "Nightwoods" is almost as bleak as McCarthy's rural near future dystopian novel. Frazier offers his readers a most captivating, often poignant, and quite brilliant, portrayal of Luce, the young woman who unexpectedly inherits her sister's troublesome, emotionally scarred, son and daughter. Hers is an epic battle of wits with her sister's husband, Bud - whom she suspects is her sister Lily's killer - as she seeks to protect Lily's young children from their alcoholic, violence-prone father. Her only ally in this quest is the unassuming Stubblefield, who becomes both friend and guardian angel to Luce, her niece and her nephew. Frazier has once again combined his excellent storytelling talent with his superb prose into a winning combination destined to be celebrated by critics and fans alike; without question, one of the finest, and most compelling, works of fiction published this year.
I had to deliberately slow myself from devouring "Nightwoods". Frazier writes sensitively and extensively of a natural world that he introduced in "Cold Mountain" but this is a contemporary thriller, with its careful build of characters, secrets and twists.
An excellent read; reminded me of Faulkner, but mostly of Frazier, a gifted storyteller who has delivered a fierce, fine work.
Probably one of the best books I've read this year. Loved any part of the story that had Luce with the radio; I could relate to Luce's tranquility situation with the Lodge (too bad it didn't stay that way for her). Also, Frazier's writing about the woods was right on the money (I think the story is set in the southern United States, but it could have been the forest from Canada). My pet peeve with the book would be the lack of quotations around dialogue - wouldn't we have failed English class if we had done that in high school?
Cold Mountain was such an exceptional book, one of those novels that picks you up and carries you along on a current of words, something you don't just read, you experience. I've waited eagerly for everything else Mr. Frazier has written, but so far, nothing comes close. "Thirteen Moons" was disappointing; the characters shallower than those of Cold Mountain, the narrative somewhat slow and repetitive. This third book gives us a Gothic murder mystery set in the 1960s. Frazier's first trip to contemporary Appalachia is my least favorite of the three.
The book is slower than "Thirteen Moons" and the lack of dialogue leaves us curiously removed from the characters. The narrative is impassive; we cannot care about characters if the author doesn't. Luce, the heroine of Nightwoods, has no blood in her veins. She is no one we can identify with. Of course she is harboring a secret, so she must be Mysterious. But being mysterious is one thing. Being opaque is another. She never quite comes to life and we never get close enough to see what motivates her. After a while, we don't care.
It's not like Frazier can't create great characters. In Cold Mountain, every character was three dimensional, real, and cannily crafted. He gave us unforgettable characters in Ada, Inman and Ruby. The secondary characters -- the Swangers, the doomed preacher, Ruby's father, and the people Inman encounters on his journey are carefully depicted. We know them and we care about them. Even the villains are real, not just devices to move the narrative forward and provide drama. He nails his characters so well, it's hard to believe how empty Luce and the other residents of Nightwoods are and how little they stir us.
The lack of dialogue may be the problem. We are seeing the characters from a distance and we never get inside their heads, never feel their emotions. He also gives us the story from three different points of view, a device that is more annoying than effective.
Even the mystery doesn't work. I don't want to be a spoiler, but anyone who has played "Why is this one different from the rest" should figure things out pretty quickly.