Lisa Eskra's Reviews > Nightwoods

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
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Sep 10, 11

Read from September 07 to 10, 2011

Good, not great. A bit predictable and stale on the plot side of things, but the writing is top notch.

Luce is a country gal, scraping to get by, at an old country lodge in rural Appalachia. She agrees to care for her sister Lily's two young children, unbeknownst to her that her sister's husband is searching for them. Bud thinks they know the location of a secret stash of money Lily stole from him so he tracks them down. The story continues from there. Very. Slowly.

Character development in the novel is very good. Luce and Bud are wonderfully deep, as well as the minor characters. Frazier does a great job of not relying on the cliche, he has a wonderful gift in that regard for storytelling.

Between the well-developed characters and the Appalachia setting, the novel conveys the raw intensity of looking through a family's old polaroid photos. Nothing's overdone. The atmosphere, the suspense...it draws the reader in.

Act One is pretty slow. It sets the scene and baits the reader with the promise of danger lurking in the coming pages. Act Two doesn't speed things up much, some parts drag. The tension build-up to the end is mediocre at best. Act Three makes a jarring change from past to present tense, but the pacing and tension really shine. I was a bit disappointed with the climax; I expected it to be more thrilling than it turned out. But all in all, a decent book.

Now for the gripes, albeit minor ones:

Like McCarthy in "The Road," Frazier forgoes quotation marks in "Nightwoods" but not for the same reason. This novel doesn't share the same minimalistic conversation style, and therefore dialogue looks poorly edited. If it starts a paragraph, there's a dash. If it occurs mid-paragraph, it just looks like he forgot to put quotes in. Often, you can't tell if Luce is thinking to herself or talking aloud until a "she said" pops up mid-paragraph. It makes the story feel schizophrenic.

I didn't care for the way Frazier broke the fourth wall in interior monologue. "Lola would ignore you for days." Really? Because I never knew her. Most of it blends well but some parts stick out like a sore thumb. And some of it falls into the same ambiguity of "Is she talking or isn't she?"

Too many points of view. When it was just Luce and Bud, the story had a great flow to it. Then he added Stubblefield, whose storyline had me confused; he's the grandson of Old Stubblefield, not the old guy in a flashback time period. Then the kid(s) enter into the mix, and I say kid(s) because in their point-of-view scenes, it could be either of them. When I hoped I'd been in the heads of everyone I needed to, he adds Lit, Luce's dad/deputy. And Maddie. And the sheriff. This is a problem because it's often not clear at the beginning of a scene whose point of view the reader is in and can be confusing (not to mention unnecessary for those last three).

As a final note, anyone triggered by rape scenes might want to avoid this novel.
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