Monday, January 16, 2012

Charles Frazier's Nightwoods

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep..." What is it about the woods that sends one's imagination into overtime? I grew up living near, what seemed to a little girl, like a terrifying place with woods on three sides of a house way up on a hill. Yes, we had our worn paths to the neighbors' houses but, stray off the tried and true and where might you end up?

Left alone at night to babysit for my younger siblings, I was constantly looking out the dark windows, sure that someone was lurking, someone who meant us harm. Every little sound was evidence. And what would I do? Run off and leave them to fend for themselves? Wasn't I fortunate not to be put to the test!

In Charles Frazier's exquisite new novel, Nightwoods, the opposite seems to happen. The woods in this story become a haven for those in need and a fitting place to die if that's what's destined to be. Nature, in all its glory, reclaims what it must and shelters the rest. It's a place of healing for the damaged folks who seek its solace. It is described with such beauty and love that the reader feels that Frazier has put his heart into every word.

This novel worked its way into my head so slowly that I didn't see it coming. I chose it not having read any major reviews but simply on the basis that it was one of the few literary novels available for download to my nook. Once begun though, I read non-stop, fearful that it would disappear in an instant and leave me high and dry!

Certainly a dark novel, like most that I read, each character is wounded so deeply that one wonders how they will move on. Luce was abandoned by her mother, a woman just not imbued with the maternal instinct, her sister Lily ran off in a fever with a bad news boy, married him, had two kids and died at his hands, her dad, haunted by World War II, was lost in a buzz of drugs and alcohol.

Luce worked nights at the telephone company switchboard until she was sexually assaulted by someone she thought she could trust. From that moment she turned inward, away from the world and the despair she saw there. Luce went towards the woods, out of town and as far from civilization as she could, becoming a caretaker for the elderly owner of a decrepit lodge that once hosted the well-heeled swells escaping the city's heat for the clean, fresh lakes of the Appalachian mountains.

When Mr. Stubblefield dies Luce stays on, used to the anonymity of life in the woods and the solitary joy of her self-sufficient days. She has her one friend, Maddie, a fabulously tough old mountain gal who gives Luce a rooster or eggs now and then and offers small talk over coffee when its needed. The day that social services arrives with her sister's orphaned children in tow, Luce is as blindsided and speechless as are the little ones, Dolores and Frank. How can she possibly repair these two mute, damaged souls when she's just barely begun to repair herself?

Charles Frazier must know a great deal about the human spirit, the power of love, the karmic justice in the battle between good and evil. He lays it all out here for his readers in a powerful, succinct story that's been touted as a mystery but is oh so much more. Cold Mountain may have won the National Book Award but Frazier's writing chops are truly on display here in Nightwoods.


Kelly Robinson said...

Nice review. I'm drawn to darker works as well.

Sallyb said...

What do you think that says about us Kelly?