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Nightwoods: A Novel
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158 of 170 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon September 21, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In his latest novel "Nightwoods", Charles Frazier returns to the same bleak, quiet Appalachian landscape that he introduced readers to in "Cold Mountain". However, unlike his celebrated earlier work of fiction, there is an almost timeless quality in "Nightwoods", a story that could have taken place as easily during the midst of the Civil War or sometime late in the Twentieth Century. Instead Frazier drops subtle hints (e. g. a reference to the film "The Defiant Ones") that it is set in the late 1950s, in a rural Appalachia that is virtually indistinguishable from the one described in "Cold Mountain", rendered vividly in a sparse, often lyrical, prose that will remind readers of Cormac McCarthy's recent work, especially "The Road"; a comparison that is most apt since "Nightwoods" is almost as bleak as McCarthy's rural near future dystopian novel. Frazier offers his readers a most captivating, often poignant, and quite brilliant, portrayal of Luce, the young woman who unexpectedly inherits her sister's troublesome, emotionally scarred, son and daughter. Hers is an epic battle of wits with her sister's husband, Bud - whom she suspects is her sister Lily's killer - as she seeks to protect Lily's young children from their alcoholic, violence-prone father. Her only ally in this quest is the unassuming Stubblefield, who becomes both friend and guardian angel to Luce, her niece and her nephew. Frazier has once again combined his excellent storytelling talent with his superb prose into a winning combination destined to be celebrated by critics and fans alike; without question, one of the finest, and most compelling, works of fiction published this year.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Luce is living as a caretaker of a remote lodge in North Carolina. Mr. Stubblefield, the owner of the lodge has recently died, but Luce continues to live there because "... nobody else seemed interested in keeping it from growing over with kudzu until it became nothing but a green mound." Luce has also become the caretaker of Frank and Delores, her twin nephew and niece, after their mother was murdered by her husband, Bud. The children will not talk and are difficult to control, setting things on fire, killing chickens and constantly fighting with each other. Some people say that they are retarded, but Luce believes that they have been badly abused and traumatized. Meanwhile, Bud, a cold-blooded killer who carefully plots his evil moves, has been found not guilty of murder and returns to find out if Luce has the ten thousand dollars, the proceeds from one of his robberies, that his wife had hid from him.

Frazier weaves together an atmospheric story using believable dialogue and vivid descriptions of rural Appalachia. It sometimes feels like every word of every sentence has been carefully constructed to pull the reader in. The characters are realistic and fascinating, the plot is intense and it's a real page turner. A beautifully written book, highly recommended.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Nightwoods is a story that evokes emotion from the reader, both through the story itself and the authentic voice of the narrator. Luce is a woman who has been cast aside by society and by herself, left on the fringe. She comes to be the caretaker of her murdered sister's twins and from here, the story evolves into an engrossing tale that hooks the reader and refuses to let them go until the very last page.

I would describe Luce as the type of person I would personally want to hang out with, if she were real, that is. As uncomfortable as she is in her own skin, she never once compromises herself and her values for those around her. Her voice is authentic and rings from page one. I felt myself identifying with her and her plight, keeping me entranced by the story as I desperately turned the pages to find out what happened next in her life.

Charles Frazier is a favorite author of mine, and this book does not disappoint. With a rich story and Frazier's remarkable talents as a storyteller, the story is a can't miss tale that takes you to Appalachia and surrounds you immediately with rich prose and an amazing story. And I loved trying the bacon with popcorn mentioned in the book. That alone is worth some praise.
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83 of 101 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Charles Frazier is a great wordsmith. Since COLD MOUNTAIN he has not been such a great story teller.

This is the story of a reclusive woman in the hills of North Carolina who suddenly has her twin niece and nephew thrust upon her. We know immediately that Luce's sister's children are not normal - they do not speak. Luce is undaunted, if not enthusiastic about losing her reclusive and independent life. We then learn something about her sister, her brother-in-law and the son of the man who owned where she lived. Believe it or not, that is the first 200 pages of this 260 page novel.

The writing is wonderful and the descriptive passages are stuff of creative writing classes. The plot - such as it is - plods and plods. Suddenly in the last 60 pages or so the story picks up and (with a few dull overly descriptive interludes) becomes a page-turner. If only the entire book was like this it would be a classic on the order of say, COLD MOUNTAIN.

Luce is a terrifically interesting character. She is a character with depth and uniqueness. As the book slowly peels the onion skin away from her past she becomes the even more intriguing.

The rest of the characters are pretty cardboard cut-out: the psychotic brother-in-law, the son of the landowner and the truly stereotypical independent elderly neighbor with the potions and the wisdom of the ages.

The book is saved by the incredibly interesting writing. Just as the reader is ready to throw the book out of the window, a plot suddenly appears.

One quirky point. Where did all the quotation marks go? Spoken lines are indicated by a dash starting the paragraph, unless they are not. Most spoke lines start with a dash, but others are buried in the paragraph. You'll read a few lines and then it will say "He said". It broke up the fluidity of the text. Let's make believe it's ok to be a tad conventional and return to the use of quotation marks.

All in all this was a mediocre book filled with extremely good descriptive passages. If you're looking for a good story, look elsewhere.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"Cold Mountain" is one of my favorite books of all time, up there with "The Thorn Birds" and "Sophie's Choice" so I admire Charles Frazier very much. I struggled with "Thirteen Moons" and ended up not liking it very much. Sadly [agreeing with many of the other 2-star reviewers] "Nightwoods" didn't work for me either. Frazier's writing is beautiful, descriptions of weather, landscape etc are wonderful to read, but somehow it feels like writing to "show off". Unnecessary descriptions go on and on without advancing the characters or plot [Ex: "In dim brown light, an old man scrabbled in a wooden bin, searching for the shiny two-cent nut that would thread onto his rusty bolt. Two boys in Keds and Wranglers studied red-and-white boxes of bicycle tubes for the correct size to fix their flats and give them their freedom back. Along with nails and brads and staples, the space behind the narrow storefront was crammed with lawn mowers, shotguns and rifles, a glass-fronted case of pocketknives, latigo dog collars, ripsaws and keyholes saws and bow saws, two-man crosscut saws so long they hung from pegs near the ceiling almost to the floor.Wooden spirit levels six feet long with silver bubbles floating in mystery green liquid. Many sizes of awls and planes and adzes and chisels. Wonderful adjustable wrenches in several sizes with knurled spirals to twiddle back and forth endlessly, imagining all the variety of nuts they were capable of turning. Brute murderous monkey wrenches two feet long with jagged teeth in their jaws. Sledgehammers and double-bit axes. A general odor of metal and oil, and also some funky underlying man smell that sparked an unwelcome prison memory for Bud." Yes, nice writing but it feels like the writer is trying to make too much of an impression. [is he describing the setting for the movie screenplay, perhaps?]

While Frazier undoubtedly can write wonderful descriptions, I never once got a clear idea of what any of the characters actually LOOKED like - Luce, Bud, Lit, Stubblefield or the mute twins [mom, Lola, yes] and the shifting of who's doing the thinking and even talking was confusing at times. While "Cold Mountain" introduced us to real, believable characters and made us deeply sympathetic to them, I never felt the same way in "Nightwoods" because none of the characters truly, in my opinion, succeed in being genuine or, worse, come off as caricatures: nasty mother, evil brother-in-law after money, long suffering boyfriend, misfit father, somewhat loopy female protagonist, some weird mystic type always cooking something and [of course] the perceptive mentor of the twins. Especially the twins - how old are they? Sometimes they seem 5 sometimes 15 - did I miss something?

I will, nevertheless, look forward to Frazier's next book.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In a well told tale about life in the Appalachian countryside in North Carolina in the 1950's the author paints a picture of the struggles of life.

Luce lives by herself in the old Lodge. She's totally self sufficient, living in the building which had been a summer retreat by a man made lake. Since Old Man Stubblefield was dead, Luce took it upon herself to act a caretaker.

When her sister was murdered, the state put her sister's two children, Dolores and Frank, into Luce's care. She felt that she really didn't have any choice. It was either that or have them separated and placed into adoption agencies.

This is an example of Naturalism in literature made popular in the early 1900's where the character's environment and hereditary predetermine what will happen to the characters, leaving little that the characters can do to change that path that is already written for them.

Luce accepts the challenges of caring for these tempermental, untalking twins. It makes the reader wonder how she can do it with no parental training, no financial or educational help from the state and almost no real support group.

In a scene that reminded me of Charles Frazier's wonderful "Cold Mountain," Luce takes the twins to her friend Maddie's home and when Maddie lets them sit on her pony, they become the little children that we are accustomed to and utter their first words, the horses name, "Sally".

Bud is the children's step-father. He's a cold hearted killer whose lack of any trace of compassion and willingness to kill others with little prevocation reminded me of the excellent character, Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men."

As the story continues, Bud's path begins to converge with Luce and the children. As their paths come closer and closer,suspense mounts in a dramatic manner.

Charles Frazier is a wonderful story teller and has given us a book with rich characters where the reader develops a great deal of empathy. This is a book that the reader can get lost in. "Nightwoods" reaffirms Frazier's place as one of the best literary writers working today.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It is the 1960's in the Southern Appalachians of North Carolina. Living alone, enjoying a life of quiet contemplation in a lodge by a lake, is Luce.

When family duty calls, Luce's Thoreau-like lakeside life, beating along to the rhythms of the seasons, crops, and moons, is disrupted. Luce's niece and nephew move with their aunt into her old, humble Lodge. Frank and Dolores are estranged from their mother and father, and in need of care.

Pyromaniac mutes, their hearts hardened by family tragedy, Frank and Dolores are no easy task for any caretaker, let alone for Luce, who has grown used to her "hermit" life of pleasant solitude.

"Nightwoods" tells the tale of Luce, Frank, and Dolores, as they are forced to come together, to confront the ghosts of their past, and the harsh demands of each new day. This, Frazier's third novel, is a touching story of family, loss, love, pain, and redemption.

The novel's most poignant brushstrokes come in the form of its heroine: Luce. "Lucere" is the Latin word for "to shine", which is exactly what Luce's determination, tenacity, and will to re-engage with family and life does in this beautifully crafted work of Southern Literature.

Luce's shining "light" contrasts with Frank and Dolores's fascination with fire. Luce's task will be to harness her niece and nephew's fiery and raw passion, and turn it into a more sustainable beacon of light.

Charles Frazier's prose is well-paced and taut, reminiscence of British writer, Ian McEwan. Unique to Frazier, though, is his ability to evoke the American South, and the mountain landscapes of his native North Carolina. His south is entirely unique, different from Conroy's Charleston, Percy's New Orleans, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha.

When Frazier depicts autumn turning to winter in the landscape around Luce, the North Carolina mountains come alive,"...poplars were already half bare and long grasses drooped burnt from the first frost. Bands of lavender and state clouds moving against a metallic sky, denoting the passage of autumn. Fallen leaves blown on the porch."

For in "Nightwoods", the landscape is more than just an evocative vista, but also an important character. The lake, mountains, isolation, and all the "reimbursements" that nature's bounty offers Luce had been, since troubled events of her youth, a fragile barrier between her heart and the demands of family, community, and love. Isolation was a way for Luce to protect herself from more pain.

The daunting, rugged Appalachians are only able to hold back the human spirit's tendency to endure, and its desire to engage with the community of people around it, for so long. The demands of family become to big for Luce to ignore.

In "Nightwoods", you will enjoy the journey of this cast of characters (Luce, Frank, Dolores, Lily, Bud, Stubblefield, Maddie, Sally, Lit, Lola), and the almost Coen Brothers-like, noir-ish, and thrilling way in which their fates collide.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I just finished Nightwoods and feel compelled to add my kudos to those already more eloquently written. The writer's imagery completely transports the reader back to the story's place and time. The characters are fully drawn. Many possibilities are offered as the story plays out, which one will be chosen to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion? The right one, as it turns out.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Luce is a loner. She's a caretaker at a North Carolina bed and breakfast that's been long out of business and whose owner, Stubblefield, has just died. Out of the blue Luce`s sister Lily is murdered and Luce inherits her damaged twin niece and nephew. Everything about her life changes when the kids arrive. There's no more time for reading books and listening to the radio through the night. Frazier's pacing is phenomenal; he slowly drops shocking plot points that define the characters. He dribbles the information casually yet the why's of people's actions fall into place more clearly with each reveal. And what great character's they are. Each one comes alive. Why is beautiful, smart Luce living at an isolated defunct inn, her only near neighbors the elderly Stubblefield and just as ancient Maddy? Occasionally she journeys a mile or so to the local store but avoids talking to anyone. Why did her sister Lilly marry the cruel husband who murders her? Even worse what did her killer, Bud, do to his step kids to make them stop talking and turn to setting fires whenever they're unsupervised? These are just a few of the mysteries.

Frazier is also subtle about the era that the action takes place but from the many book, music and movie references I'd guess it's set somewhere in the `60's though it might as well be set in a more distant past. The events seem timeless, doomed to be repeated with variations over and over again. 1860 and 1960 feel almost interchangeable. Here folks do things the old way. Indoor plumbing and electricity are sketchy. Maddy uses an old pony, leading it in circles, to crush homegrown grain. That's another interesting thing. Who is Maddy? I seem to remember a character by that name appearing in Frazier's "Cold Mountain". Is this her grown ancient and wise?

I have to mention Frazier's use of nature. He frequently harks back to pioneers and even further back to Native Americans use of this same area and identifies signs of their habitation. There's a sense of tradition and reverence for the area's beauty and how it impacts people's lives. Smalls signs from animals and the stars and what's growing help shape lives. I read `Cold Mountain" and liked it but in my opinion "Nightwoods" vastly outstrips it.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 12, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is an all encompassing quiet that muffles "Nightwoods". Perhaps it is due to the remote location of much of the story. Perhaps it comes from the detached nature of the main characters. Or maybe it comes from the overwhelming presence of Nature...and the sense that regardless of the human drama that takes place in the story, Nature will eventually reclaim these woods and restore balance.

The main character, Luce, seems to grasp this instinctually, and she accepts her minor role in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes she seems far older than she is, because of this and because of all that she has gone through in her life.

"That night in bed, WLAC playing low and not helping much, Luce couldn't sleep for thinking about the black hole. She didn't spend a second wondering what creatures live down there. One look and she knew nothing lived there. Life would only be in the way. The black hole was before life and beyond life. If you dipped a ladle of that water and drank it, visions would come so dark you wouldn't want to live in the world that contained them. You'd be ready to flee toward the other darkness summed up in death, which is only distant kin to the black hole and the liquid it cups. A darkness left over from before Creation. A reminder of the time before light. Before these woods and these mountains and the earth and even the sun, there was a black hole filled with black water. The black held no reference to the green world around it. And what did the green world mean if the black was and forever had been?"

The visuals in the book are amazing. Naturally, the descriptions of the woods are the most breathtaking, but even simple interior scenes are described in such a way that the reader can see and smell everything around.

"Luce hadn't been there since childhood, and yet not even the placement of the candy jar on the mantel had changed. The kind of place where antimacassars draped the backrests of purple velvet chairs, the seat cushions buffed to a pale silver nub by many decades of buttocks dating back nearly to the Grant administration. Bookcases everywhere, filled with leather Miltons and Burnses and Tennysons inscribed on the endpapers with the beautiful looping handwriting of dead people."

This is not to say that nothing happens in "Nightwoods". Far from it. The most heinous of human sins take place in these woods, in this small town.

"Hours into the climb, scenery loses its attraction. It's nothing but ten feet of dirt and leaves in front of his aching feet. Bud is bored and thinking about violence, but trying not to, because violence is best accomplished spur-of-the-moment. Let it happen out of nowhere. Anything else, and you go from being a hothead manslaughterer to nothing but a cold first-degree murderer. Act with great purity - like there's no past and no future, nothing but the red right now - and there's a degree of innocence to it, no matter how heinous and bloody the outcome."

There is a heroine, a villain, and many people in between. And yet even then, there is a sense of quiet. Quiet desperation, quiet grief, quiet hopelessness. The emotions are strong, the actions are fierce...but the results seem to be muffled over time.

"Nightwoods" is a series of terrible events in the lives of its human inhabitants, but the reader closes the book that over time, all will be smoothed over and resume its place in the stillness of this eternal forest.
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