Sunday, April 01, 2012


I hadn't planned to read Charles Frazier's Nightwoods (2011), but it called my name as I was browsing the "New Books" alcove at the library where I work.  I'd read his Cold Mountain many years ago and wondered how things had progressed for him.  I thought Cold Mountain was beautiful but dull. 

Nightwoods was absolutely captivating.  I could literally barely put it down - I like to read at bedtime and I would try to read well after I should have gone to sleep, trying to keep my drooping eyes open. 

His prose is so beautiful.  I had just read this novel with kind of forced, over-the-top prose (The Book of Madness and Cures) and reading Frazier's effortless, lovely language kind of washed that previous book out of my brain.  I wish I could examine the structure and tell you how he did it, but, to my great shame, I've never taken so much as one literature class, so, I have no idea.  It's magical.  Like Marilynne Robinson only more plot-driven (thank God!)  
Done carefully and with luck, maybe a flame no bigger than the tip of a finger lives for a few seconds.  Then, when the tinder begins to catch, an old man with his long hair on fire, crumple a few more whole leaves and place twigs above the flame. Nervous as pick-up sticks in reverse. Judge wrong, the sticks collapse and snuff the flame. Do it right, and the flame grows, but still fragile. More twigs and then small broken branches. And when that layer starts to catch, that's when you purse and blow. Do it on and on until, when you look up to the sky, everything is dark and grainy as soot with little silver sparkles dancing in your vision. For there, it's easy. nothing but the architecture of broken wood. 
A woman, Luce, lives alone as a caretaker for an old, closed, resort lodge.  She makes little money and supports herself with a garden and listens to the radio.  She likes being alone.  But, her sister is killed by her husband and her sister's children are sent to her.  The children have been damaged by what they saw and what was done to them, they are like skittish animals, which Luce carefully tries to coax back into the world.  They don't even speak.  The story is alternately told from the perspective of the murderous husband, who is trying to find the children.  His pathology and justifications are really chilling.  He lives with violence, but is a charming schemer.  

You might be able to think of half-a-dozen Lifetime movies that have that same plot, and, as I was reading, something in the back of mind kept telling me how annoying  it would be if it wrapped up the way those movies end - surprise, unknown strength, unexpected gratitude, mute children suddenly talking, what a relief, etc.  Thankfully, he's a much more skilled writer than the folks who are throwing those movies together!  

Here's one of those stupid book trailers, slightly more stupid that usual.  I include it only because I think they're bizarre and publishers still seem to be working out the kinks. Also this one in particular  kind of sets it up like a Lifetime special, with an odd focus on FIRE! (the children, like most kids, like catching things on fire.)  


KHM said...

Sounds great, spesh. I'm putting it in my Special K folder!

Unknown said...

Going back and forth with different authors, it gave me an appreciation for Charles Fraziers books. Nightwoods is another great book that kept me engaged.
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