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.
Frazier structures his novel by alternating between the perspectives of Luce, the twins, Bud and a man named Stubblefield, who inherited the land Luce lives on. This organization could easily have gotten messy, but Frazier expertly interweaves the characters’ stories, each one providing readers overarching insights that the characters do not have, particularly in regard to their places in the grand scheme of things.
Of note is how Frazier expertly details the novel’s Appalachian setting, conceivably an outcome of his growing up in North Carolina. It is difficult not to appreciate Frazier’s level of description, particularly when it comes to his depictions of changing seasons. Fans of symbolism will appreciate "Nightwoods" for it has two recurrent themes—fire and water—that intricately interlace characters with one another and their environs.
Concise yet meticulous, "Nightwoods" provides ample expositions of human nature, likely Frazier’s ultimate purpose. Though short, "Nightwoods" is a great, thought-provoking story.
Author: Charles Frazier
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: September 27, 2011
Page count: 272
List price: $16
Awards: 2011 Westwoods Award for Fiction
About the Nook
The Nook is a collective space where Reviewers share their thoughts on and reactions to the books they have just finished reading. Have something to say in response to a Reviewer's entry? Add a comment! Consider Reviewers your virtual book buds. You can also check out individual Reviewers' diaries to get a sense each one's unique tastes and ideologies.