Written by Lauryn Smith
What do you get when you mix solitude, murder and a touch of love affair? Charles Frazier’s 2011 fiction novel, "Nightwoods."
"Nightwoods" follows the story of Luce, a woman who finds herself the caretaker of her murdered sister’s twin children. Living in an isolated, rural area of 1960s North Carolina, Luce is accustomed to seclusion, living apart from society. In fact, she enjoys it.
In "Nightwoods," Frazier, who is also the author of "Thirteen Moons" and "Cold Mountain," portrays how Luce learns to help the twins overcome their troubling past while at the same time protect them, particularly from their deceased mother’s husband named Bud, a man (not the twins’ biological father) with insidious intentions.
Frazier’s protagonist has a troubling past of her own, which allows her to relate to the taciturn children. Though Frazier seems to attempt to demonstrate through Luce’s character how a person’s past can affect his or her present, Luce ends up coming across as static—always strong, always contemplative, always passionate. The children, on the other hand, are clearly dynamic. Normally closed off, introverted and outwardly “feebleminded,” they exhibit courage and resourcefulness when conditions call for such traits. It could be argued that Frazier should have hinted more toward how Luce’s history affects her adult self. Perhaps Frazier left this aspect open-ended to prompt readers to actively conceptualize on their own.
Written by Lauryn Smith
Guess who came to town—Erik Larson! Larson is the best-selling author of a handful of nonfiction novels, including "The Devil in the White City" and "In the Garden of Beasts." This Reviewer swooned when she found out he was coming to North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, IL, for a talk and signing event April 7, 2015 (thank you, Beth). A couple of us Reviewers attended Larson’s lecture, during which he spoke about his newest release, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," released March 10, 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of the historic disaster. Here are five takeaways from the lecture.
1. Writing Style
Anyone who has ventured into one of Larson’s novels knows that while they are extremely interesting and well written, the amount of information presented does not make them conducive to reading cover to cover in one sitting (not that it is impossible!). However, Larson made clear a humorous nuance to his writing when he read a passage from "Dead Wake" aloud. Some bits of information do more than relay facts—they also illustrate inconsistencies of thought common during the period being written about. In "Dead Wake," for instance, Larson touches on Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure” for female nervous conditions, the most severe cases calling for electric shock treatments in a tub of water.
Written by Lauryn Smith
In her historical fiction novel "The Museum of Extraordinary Things," Alice Hoffman invites readers to dive into dueling worlds, one mystical and breathtaking, the other dark and seedy.
Set in 1911 New York, Hoffman illustrates the time by interweaving the stories of Coralie, a young woman who assists her father’s museum of “natural” wonders, and Eddie, a young man who struggles with his unfortunate past but finds solace in his work as a photographer and life in the Manhattan wilderness. Their paths cross when Eddie accepts a job reminiscent of those he used to accept from shady characters in his youth. This time the job is seeking the missing daughter of an acquaintance of his estranged father. In addition to providing readers a true page-turner of a book, Hoffman expertly introduces readers to actual historical events, in this case the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village and the fire at Coney Island’s amusement park, Dreamland.
Hoffman, the author of more than 30 novels, seems to want to exemplify the psychological impacts of social and economic inequalities. Coralie feels trapped by the wishes of her father, who disallows her from showing her true self, going so far as to require her to glove her deformed hands, while simultaneously forcing her to train as a water-loving creature to be displayed at the museum. Eddie carries with him the watch of the young son of a wealthy factory owner, which he stole when he was a child working alongside his garment-worker father, a token that seems to represent his distaste with societal disparities. His unease is perpetuated by his craft, in which he uses his camera to capture both beautiful and sordid images. Likewise, Coralie learns that the museum of wonders that once seemed magical is actually a house of hidden horrors. How is it that the world can supply such extremes, and in such proximity?
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