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Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
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's review
Apr 25, 12

bookshelves: fiction, suspense, romance
Read in March, 2012

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

From the author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons comes another thought provoking, gritty, historical novel set in the Appalachians. The story’s setting is a small mountain town of North Carolina in the early 1960’s. The characters we meet have all been damaged in one way or another by life.

Luce is the caretaker of an old forgotten mountain lodge though the owner, old Mr. Stubblefield, has passed away and no one ever goes up to the lodge. Abandoned by her mother at a young age and raped by a high school teacher Luce lives secluded at the lodge that watches over the town across the mile wide lake. Her only tenuous connection to that town is her cold father, Lit, who is the town’s ruthless officer and also a secret drug addict.

Luce becomes the reluctant guardian of her sister Lily’s young twin children after Lily was murdered by her abusive husband Bud in front of the children. Traumatized both by seeing their mother killed and also something darker and uglier that happened to them both Delores and Frank have become mute and disturbed. Luce quickly finds that left alone even for a minute the twins will torch and kill anything in front of them.

Luce is determined to stick it out with the twins with the hope that some day they will speak and become somewhat sociable. Maddie, an old mountain woman living nearby finds a slim connection to the twins mind through her pony Sally. Young Stubblefield shows up to claim his inheritance which includes a mountain home that the twins have already burned down and the mountain lodge. Stubblefield is surprised to find Luce as the caretaker. Quickly he becomes enamored with her and decides to work at winning over Luce and the twins.

Meanwhile Bud, through pure luck and good lawyer tactics, gets a hung jury and the state decides to not pursue the murder charge with another trial at this time. Before he killed Lily she had taken and hid a large amount of cash that Bud had stolen from a shady guy who would turn up dead floating in the water a few days later. Bud decides to track down the twins figuring that they either have the money or know where it is. Plus, his lawyer told him that the state could always bring back the murder charge if they find more evidence – evidence that the mute and destructive twins have in their memories. Bud decides to track down the twins and shows up in town. Since he isn’t known to anyone he is able to insinuate himself with other “good ol’ buddies” and ends up being the town’s bootlegger and supplier to Lit. But where Bud goes violence will follow.

Like his other novels Frazier knows how to convey the feel and actions of Appalachian people who come with baggage in their lives. Unlike Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons, both stories telling of epic lives, this is a snapshot of people surrounded by bootlegging (both whiskey and drugs), violence, poverty and injured lives. But it is a story told in the same lyrical, reflective and stark writing of his other books and Nightwoods will be a winner for those who have loved Frazier’s writings. I also highly recommend listening to the book if you can – the book is read by Will Patton who hits the tones and nuances of Appalachia quite well.


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