Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Nightwoods

By Charles Frazier
Random House September 2011
272 pages
From the library

Luce appreciated her life as a recluse in the Appalachian mountains. When her sister Lily is murdered, Luce must care for her twin children. Dolores and Frank are not normal children. Luce is convinced their silence is a part of the trauma they suffered from witnessing their mother’s death. Two men also come into Luce’s solitary life. Stubblefield, the grandson of the man who owned Luce’s lodge, remembers Luce from years ago. His patient insistence on being a part of the fractured family slowly breaks through Luce’s defenses.  Bud is the children’s father and perhaps his wife's murderer. He is determined to find the money he is convinced is with the twins and ensure they cannot implicate him. 

Nightwoods is an intense story that starts off slowly, but speeds by once it really gets going. The first hundred pages or so really immerse you in the setting. You feel the stillness of the mountains, the grace of solitude and the indifference of the local residents. Frazier beautifully paints the beauty of nature that Luce so appreciates. But this part is too long. Once he had established the characters and setting, I was ready to get into the nitty gritty of the story – what would Bud do to Luce and the kids to get back the money? Unfortunately, it takes too long for the action to really begin and the readers are left in a sort of limbo for many more pages than necessary.

That being said, I’m glad I stuck with it. Once the action began, it was fast and powerful. I read the last sixty pages in one sitting, desperate to find out what happened to characters I had really come to care about. The characters are subtle and understated and unusual. They are most endearing in their interactions with each other and I was struck, as a parent by Luce’s patience with the children and Stubblefield’s patience with her.

Luce brilliantly explains the tension between the big moments of a new relationship and the day-to-day moments with small children, especially when they need extra care.“The Gulf and James Brown would, no doubt, be splendid and powerful. Climactic experiences. And staying home with Dolores and Frank would be frustrating and confining and inconclusive. To little effect beyond the awful dailyness of life. The dismal failures and rare moment of minor victory. And it wasn’t even as if love factored much. Luce didn’t expect to love the children, and she sure didn’t expect them to love her…Whatever feeling Luce was starting to have toward Dolores and Frank, she hadn’t yet figured out the name for. But it resided in the same family as respect.”

Nightwoods is partly a thriller and partly a contemplative look at a nontraditional family. While the meandering through the woods (literally and figuratively) is a little bit long, there are so many nice moments between the characters and the suspense is tangible each time darkness settles over the mountains. 

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