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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-09-19
- Reviewer: Staff
National Book Award–recipient Frazier’s third novel (after Thirteen Moons) turns around Luce, a beautiful and lonely young woman who has retreated to a vast abandoned lodge in the mountains of Appalachia. Traumatized by negligent parents (“Mother a long-gone runaway. Father, a crazy-ass, violent lawman”), Luce now lives off the land in relative contentment—until her sister Lily is murdered, and Lily’s deeply damaged twins, Dolores and Frank, are sent to live with her. We are briefly allowed to hope for happily-ever-after when an old flame of Luce’s, a thoughtful and kind man by the name of Stubblefield, reenters her life, but he is not the only newcomer to town. Unbeknownst to Luce, her sister’s husband—and killer, Bud, on the prowl for money he believes Lily’s children stole from him, has arrived and will readily perform sudden, cold violence on anyone who stands in his way. Frazier’s characters lack nuance (they are either very, very good or very, very bad) and his prose is often self-consciously folksy. But his great strength, as well as presenting us with a fully realized physical backdrop, is the tenderness with which he renders the relationships at the core of this book, creating a compelling meditation on violence and the possibility that human love can heal even the deepest wound. (Oct.)
Frazier's third Appalachian odyssey
Mystery hangs like a fog through each turn of Charles Frazier’s dark new novel, Nightwoods. The story is set in 1960s Appalachia, where violence is as much a part of the landscape as the poplar or the hickory; something to live alongside, something to ponder. Its source in this story is Bud, a hot-headed drifter who has murdered his wife over a sum of cash and orphaned her young twins, the only witnesses to the crime—and the only people alive who might know where the money is hidden. But the children are catatonic when they arrive in hill country, sent by the state to live with their Aunt Luce. Bud wonders if they might have his money, or if they’ll ever be able to talk about what they saw, and he aims to find out.
Luce, a spinster hermit who lives in an abandoned lakefront lodge at the foot of an ancient mountain, has shed all attachment to the world save an affinity toward her neighbor Maddie, who cooks in the old style, tends an aging pony and sings the murder ballads of a lost era. When the twins arrive, they are a thing apart, an oddity by any standard. Their cold expressions frighten Luce and they set fire to anything within reach. Luce is nearly at wit’s end when a young man named Stubblefield comes to reclaim his family’s lodge. In the end, he is her truest ally in the struggle to protect the children, from Bud and from themselves.
At its best, Nightwoods recalls the marauding madness of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. The characters are expertly molded from the very land they inhabit, calling attention to the shallowness of the grave in which our more violent past is buried. Frazier’s clipped sentence fragments are at first thrilling, underscoring the novel’s central theme. But those fragments become tired as the plot thins, and the tension that is so finely wound from the start begins to slacken as the story approaches a somewhat banal finale. Fans of Cold Mountain will be glad to see Frazier return to the land he knows so well, but they will only feel mildly sated by this third effort.