Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Nightwoods ★★★☆☆
A Novel by Charles Frazier
Audiobook Read by Will Patton
2011 / 272 Pages
Listening Time: 8:46:25

Beloved southern author Charles Frazier returns to Appalachian North Carolina for his third novel, Nightwoods.  Set in the 1960s, Nightwoods weaves a woeful tale of murder, revenge, fear, and family in a place where justice is anything but just, and where the wilderness and isolation of the landscape blur the notions of civilization.

When Luce’s sister is brutally murdered, her young twin children are left in Luce’s capable but reluctant hands.  Frank and Dolores are barely old enough to go to school, but there is something somber and serious about the twins, and Luce has a feeling that the children have seen, heard, and experienced more tragedy than anyone should encounter in an entire lifetime, let alone before adolescence.  They rarely speak but somehow manage to communicate perfectly with each other.  Unfortunately, these communications usually result in either some display of violence or a catatonic state – there’s not much in between for Frank and Dolores.

But with a great deal of patience, Luce is eventually able to coax the children into trusting her – as much as they possibly can.  But Luce can understand such tendencies.  She has a few trust issues of her own hailing from a family of violence and abandonment.  With her sister murdered and her mother living a completely new and separate life in Florida, Luce’s only family in the small North Carolina town is her father, Lit, who is a dangerous and crooked lawman and never seemed to care about the safety or well-being of his wife and children.  So Luce has lived her adult life on the outskirts of town, tending to an old lodge that no longer receives guests.  But when the owner of the lodge dies, his grandson inherits the property with every intent to sell the land as quickly as possible.  But one look at Luce reminds Stubblefield of the beauty and peacefulness that the landscape has to offer, and the two enter slowly into a romantic relationship.

With Dolores and Frank progressing daily and Stubblefield respectfully and loyally courting Luce, the family is peaceful and happy for the first time in years.  But the long, dark shadow of her sister’s past reminds Luce every single day that trouble is on the horizon.  When her sister’s husband and murderer is released from prison, he heads straight for the children, highly motivated to find a sack of money that he believes the twins can locate.  But one look at the man who killed their mother sends Dolores and Frank fleeing into the cold, dark mountains, and Luce and Stubblefield are left wondering how to protect the twins from such an angry and dangerous man when both parties have completely disappeared.

Told from alternating perspectives, Nightwoods is a compelling tale of survival, strength, sacrifice, and family, but unfortunately the novel’s pace doesn’t quite match the urgency of the themes.  And ultimately, we are left with a long list of unanswered questions regarding just about every character of the book.  While I did enjoy listening to the audiobook (and I must say, Will Patton did an amazing job), I have a feeling that Nightwoods will not leave the same potent degree of legacy that Charles Frazier established with Cold Mountain.  But still, one cannot help but appreciate the complexities of a setting that makes such a story imaginable.  I may be somewhat bias living in the foothills of the Appalachians myself, but Charles Frazier is a master at personifying a landscape that is beautiful, lonely, dangerous, and rich in history.  Nightwoods may not contain the best plot in contemporary southern literature, but the Appalachian wilderness is alive and well in Frazier’s prose.

About Karli Cude

Karli Cude, previous moderator of Hooked Bookworm, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences in 2013.