Nightwoods (Review)

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Nightwoods
Charles Frazier, 2011
272 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
December, 2011

Yes, it's true. Charles Frazier, National Book Award winner for Cold Mountain, may have a bit of a shtick. Some critics—by no means all—accuse him of burdening his storylines with heavy-handed, florid prose. I disagree.

For me Frazier evokes William Faulkner, another king of verbiage who creates idiosyncratic worlds. Like Faulkner's, Frazier's are lost worlds—resplendent yet precarious, they no longer exist. Still, they're so complete it's hard to pull away, even when the book is closed.

In Nightwoods, Frazier gives us a suspense story. His heroine is Luce, a young caretaker of an abandoned lodge in Appalachia. Luce is a loner. She has removed herself from society because she believes that...

A distressingly large portion of the world doesn't do you any good whatsoever. In fact, it does you bad. Casts static between your ears, drowns out who you truly are.

But Luce's idyll of self-sufficiency ends abruptly when given charge of her murdered sister's twins, two "little fierce savages." The children are traumatized: mute and withdrawn, they tend to violence, and especially arson. Against the backdrop of this remote and beautiful setting, Luce must work to heal the damage...and find a way toward wholeness for them all.

Yet violence and danger lurk on the edges of the natural world—and the human one. Frazier takes his time, wending his way slowly, even luxuriously (okay, maybe a little self-indulgence here), to the boiling point. In the end evil is vanquished, but only for the time being. It cannot, it seems, be abolished forever. Luce comes to accept the fact that, if goodness is to survive, she must re-emerge from self-imposed exile and re-engage with the world.

This is a beautiful, heartfelt story about how we can live a moral life in a corrupt, dangerous world. But beware: if you're in the mood for lean, fast-paced prose, Nightwoods may not be what you're looking for. But if you're up for luscious, prosy prose, this is it.

See our Reading Guide for Nightwoods.

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