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.
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
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