Nightwoods (Frazier)

Nightwoods
Charles Frazier, 2011
Random House
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400067091


Summary
The extraordinary author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons returns with a dazzling new novel of suspense and love set in small-town North Carolina in the early 1960s.

Charles Frazier puts his remarkable gifts in the service of a lean, taut narrative while losing none of the transcendent prose, virtuosic storytelling, and insight into human nature that have made him one of the most beloved and celebrated authors in the world. Now, with his brilliant portrait of Luce, a young woman who inherits her murdered sister’s troubled twins, Frazier has created his most memorable heroine.
 
Before the children, Luce was content with the reimbursements of the rich Appalachian landscape, choosing to live apart from the small community around her. But the coming of the children changes everything, cracking open her solitary life in difficult, hopeful, dangerous ways.

Charles Frazier is known for his historical literary odysseys, and for making figures in the past come vividly to life. Set in the twentieth century, Nightwoods resonates with the timelessness of a great work of art. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1950
Where—Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Education—B.A., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill;
   M.A., Ph.D., Appalachian State University
Awards—National Book Award for Fiction, 1997
Currently—lives in Raleigh, North Carolina


Charles Frazier grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. Cold Mountain, his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller, and won the National Book Award in 1997. In 2006 Mr. Frazier published Thirteen Moons.

Frazier had been teaching University-level literature part-time when he first became spellbound by the story of his great-great uncle W. P. Inman. Inman was a confederate soldier during the Civil War who took a harrowing foot-journey from the ravaged battle fields back to his home in the mountains of North Carolina. The specifics of Inman's history were sketchy, indeed, but Frazier's father spun his tale with such enticing drama that Frazier began filling in the gaps, himself. Bits of the life of Frazier's grandfather, who also fought in the Civil War, helped flesh out the journey of William Pinkney Inman.

He also looked toward the legendary epic poem The Odyssey for inspiration. Slowly, a gripping tale of devotion, faith, redemption, and love coalesced in Frazier's mind. For six or seven years, he toiled away on the story that would ultimately become Cold Mountain, and with the novel's publication in 1997, the first-time author had a modern classic of American literature on his hands.

In Cold Mountain, Inman is a wounded confederate soldier who abandons the war to venture home to his beloved Ada. Along the way, he is confronted by various obstacles, but he journeys on valiantly, regardless. Frazier cleverly divides the narrative between Inman's trek and Ada's story as she struggles to make due in the wake of her father's death and the absence of her love.

When Frazier was only half finished with the book, he passed it along to friend and novelist Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster; A Virtuous Woman), who then got it into the hands of her agent. Much to his disbelief, Frazier's novel went on to become the smash sensation of the late-‘90s. Winning countless laudatory reviews from publications throughout the nation, Cold Mountain also became a must-read commercial smash. The novel ultimately won the coveted National Book Award for fiction and was adapted into an Oscar-winning motion picture starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and best supporting actress Renee Zellweger.

Nearly ten years after the publication of Cold Mountain, Frazier published Thirteen Moons. While Thirteen Moons returns to a 19th century setting, 12-year old Will is quite a different protagonist from Inman. With only a horse, a key, and a map, the boy is prodded into Indian country with the mission of running a trading post. In this dangerous environment, Will learns to empathize with the Cherokees, who open his mind to a much broader world than he had ever seen before.

In 2011 Frazier published Nightwoods, the story of a young woman living alone in the Appalachians who takes on the care of her murdered sisters young children, traumatized, violent and mute.

Extras
• Frazier grew up not far from the mountain he immortalized in Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina. Although the actual Cold Mountain exists, the town after which it is named in the novel is entirely fictional.

• Reportedly, Frazier was offered a whopping $8 million advance for Thirteen Moons. Sadly, the book never reached the sales potential Random House had expected.  (From Widkipedia.)



Book Reviews
Nightwoods...is a departure from its predecessors in some respects. It’s set in the early 1960s rather than the 19th century, and it involves no literary or historical elements of comparable grandeur and gravity [as his previous two novels]. Indeed, based on its premise, the new book feels remarkably stripped down: a young woman named Luce, the caretaker of an old lodge in small-town North Carolina, becomes the guardian of the twin children of her murdered sister.... It’s too bad the writing gets in the way of the storytelling—or, to be truer to Frazier, it’s plangently unfortunate the writing style gets all up and troublesome-like in the whisper-leaved way of the true and fine telling of this terrible and valiant tale of priapic violence and distaff recompense.... Writing that invites this much attention, that so strives to concentrate our attention on its effects, has to achieve more than precious and overwrought evocation.
Randy Boyagoda - New York Times Book Review


This is a fantastic book: an Appalachian Gothic with a low-level fever that runs alternately warm and chilling. Frazier has left the 19th century and the picaresque form to produce a cleverly knitted thriller about a tough young woman in the 1960s who has given up on the people of her small town and gone to live alone in the woods. Much of the terror and pleasure of “Nightwoods” comes from detecting the ligaments that connect these wounded folks, who don’t always realize how they’re connected until a knife is already in flight.
Ron Charles - Washington Post



Frazier is very good at the slow and nuanced process by which...emotionally thwarted, and justifiably suspicious, characters come together, but that meeting always happens against a backdrop of violence and social upheaval.
John Burnside - Guardian (UK)


Though the details are vivid, there is a fog hanging over the story. The plot seems frozen, until events take place without explanation, leaving the reader confused about whether an old house has burned down, whether two characters are related, how Bud ends up in a shooting range... Part of this fog comes from the style of Frazier's writing, which can be descriptive and powerful but incomplete.... His full sentences, when he bothers to write them, are much more powerful, such as when he describes a character's feeling that "the week before Labor Day became its own tiny season of gloom, like a hundred Sunday nights crowded together."... The landscape of the book may be vivid and poetic throughout, but descriptions of beauty alone don't make a novel. In Nightwoods the landscape overshadows the humans it's supposed to illuminate.
Alana Semuels - Los Angeles Times


National Book Award–recipient Frazier’s third novel (after Thirteen Moons) turns around Luce, a beautiful and lonely young woman who has retreated to a vast abandoned lodge in the mountains of Appalachia. Traumatized by negligent parents (“Mother a long-gone runaway. Father, a crazy-ass, violent lawman”), Luce now lives off the land in relative contentment—until her sister Lily is murdered, and Lily’s deeply damaged twins, Dolores and Frank, are sent to live with her. We are briefly allowed to hope for happily-ever-after when an old flame of Luce’s, a thoughtful and kind man by the name of Stubblefield, reenters her life, but he is not the only newcomer to town. Unbeknownst to Luce, her sister’s husband—and killer, Bud, on the prowl for money he believes Lily’s children stole from him, has arrived and will readily perform sudden, cold violence on anyone who stands in his way. Frazier’s characters lack nuance (they are either very, very good or very, very bad) and his prose is often self-consciously folksy. But his great strength, as well as presenting us with a fully realized physical backdrop, is the tenderness with which he renders the relationships at the core of this book, creating a compelling meditation on violence and the possibility that human love can heal even the deepest wound.
Publishers Weekly


With this dark tale of murder, New York Times best-selling author Frazier (Cold Mountain; Thirteen Moons) hauntingly evokes rural North Carolina in the early 1960s. Luce, a young woman far removed from the outside world, becomes foster mother to young twins when her sister is murdered by her husband. The traumatized children seem to have reverted to a wild state; they do not speak and have a troubling inclination to set fires. So isolated is Luce that she never hears the news that the suspect has somehow been declared innocent and is headed her way, in search of money he believes his deceased wife may have passed along to her. Time passes slowly for Luce and the children: she takes up with a local man who has inherited the rundown hotel where she lives, and the twins gradually begin to open up. Frazier paints a vibrant picture of the rhythms of life and the flora and fauna of western North Carolina. When the children's father arrives on their doorstep, the story takes a shocking turn. Verdict: Frazier's poetic and reflective style is perfectly suited to the novel's setting and to his vivid portrayal of the dark side of humanity. Recommended. —Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. Luce's strategy for dealing with her troubled past is to withdraw from her community, her emotions, and in some sense from life itself. Does Luce find this an effective coping mechanism for dealing with trauma? How does it help her, and how does it hurt her? In our digital world, is it still possible for someone to withdraw in this way?

2. Luce feels obligated to care for her sister's children even though she admits she is not a maternal person and does not love the children. Discuss this choice. How is Luce's sense of obligation informed by her relationship with her own mother and father?

3. Think about Luce's connection to her elder friends. What is it about Luce that draws her toward Maddie, old Stubblefield, and her grade school teachers?

4. Think about the scene in which Luce tells Lit about the rape. Is he only being insensitive and rude, or is there a part of him that is actually trying to protect Luce from more pain and disruption, albeit in an insensitive way?

5. Luce and Stubblefield are alike in some ways, and in others they are very different. Why do you think they are attracted to each other? Discuss which character changes the most over the course of the novel.

6. Discuss the children, and their eccentric and violent behavior. Are they misunderstood? Mentally or emotionally disturbed? How do they function as a narrative engine? In today's environment, a caretaker of these children would probably look for some kind of diagnosis. Apart from abuse, think about what might drive the kids' behavior that may have been misunderstood in the early 1960s. What are the challenges of raising children without the medical or psychiatric support we take for granted today?

7. Bud and Lit manage to form an unlikely bond. What is Bud looking for in Lit? And what is Lit looking for in Bud? What draws the two men apart, and ultimately leads to Lit's death?

8. Blood is a prominent symbol in Nightwoods. How does the metaphor of blood affect your interpretation of the story, and how does it shape Bud's confused worldview?

9. The beautifully rendered Appalachian landscape plays a central role in Nightwoods. Is the landscape merely a setting for the story? Or is it something more? A symbol? A kind of character? And what do you think the giant pit in the woods represents?

10. In the end, Luce opens up to Stubblefield and accepts that he intends to be a permanent fixture in her life. The children also seem to have accepted him. What do you think of this unlikely, cobbled-together family? What does it say about what makes a family? Will they be successful in making each other whole again?

11. What do you think happened to Bud? Does he continue to represent a threat to Luce, Stubblefield, and the kids?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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