In Charles Frazier’s latest novel, he takes us to a small town in North Carolina where Luce, a loner and caretaker of an old lodge is forced to care for her niece and nephew after her sister’s murder.
Luce is used to being on her own. She’s lived quietly by the lake for a few years now and her only real companion is Maddie, a neighbor and the lush landscapes that surround her. She now faces the reality of two psychologically scarred children and helping them find their way again.
Nightwoods isn’t a book you can read quickly. It’s a book to read at a slower pace, to enjoy and savor Frazier’s writing style. He writes in the present tense and incorporates the land in the novel making Nightwoods a richly evocative and deeply engrossing novel.
Frazier’s prose draws on the stark landscape of the Appalachians and intertwines the beauty and harshness of nature with the beauty and harshness of humanity. Frazier is brutally honest in his writing, there are no happily ever afters and warm embraces, his storytelling is stripped down and honest.
I connected with Luce immediately, although she is a hard character and some may not like her. There’s no artifice to Luce, what you see is what you get. She’s a victim of a horrible crime and her choosing to live alone away from modern day civilization can be perceived as giving up and running away – and in its own way, that’s what it is, I found Luce to be a fighter. After what happened to her, she stripped herself of all of the materialism and wants and found herself. When Dolores and Frank came to live with her she didn’t balk at their handicaps, she accepted them and did her best to help them.
The novel is set in the 1960s but it feels like another century as you are reading. Luce has forgone materialism and lives off of the land. Even Bud, the murderer of Luce’s sister, seems a product of another era, when gun slinging, falsely macho men ruled the quiet landscapes and preyed on the innocents.
Frazier’s novel is on the outside about a woman trying to survive with two orphans, to escape her past and fight a villain for her future. But read closely, Frazier’s words are never simplistic, it’s also about the evils of capitalism and the unembellished laws of nature – of its beauty and its harshness.
If you have read Charles Frazier’s work in the past, give Nightwoods a try, it’s worth it. If you’ve never read Frazier before be patient, he’s not the average writer but his words are fraught with depth and emotion.