Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Nightwoods by Charles Frazier (2012 Book Challenges)

This is my first review for my 2012 Book Challenges! Rejoice!

by Charles Frazier

Procured from my Mama, borrowed from her iPad's library o' eBooks

Procured in December 29, 2011

Finished on January 1, 2012

Challenge?: For the "What's in a Name?" challenge

Format: eBook (this is the first one I read on an iPad and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at my lack of annoyance at the backlight)

Why I gave it a try: This gent is from the same neck of the woods I am (just on the other/wrong side of the mountains) and plus, he made me weep like a little girl with Cold Mountain. Besides, I was intrigued by the creepy cover

Summary: There's creepy twins. There's an evil stepdad. There's a murdered mother. There's a wounded young woman living in an abandoned country lodge. Stir in lost money. Add a suitor. Let the spinning wheel spin...

Thoughts: I was pretty sure I was really going to love this book. I mean, I loved Cold Mountain (though I do curse him for playing with my emotions like a puppet master). I love creepy stories set in the woods. And I love Southern fiction, especially Southern fiction set in my neck of the woods (literally). I was not disappointed and, in fact, I like Mr. Frazier better for having read this book. It shows me that he isn't a one trick pony who is only capable of a single kind of twist or outcome.

For one thing, the amount of tension that he is able to create with relatively little action is remarkable. Most of the action and violence takes place "off stage" or in the past - I'm impressed with Frazier's restraint to go this route. Can you imagine allowing yourself to dissipate the tension of a Dramatic Scene by mentioning it only in passing? It ain't easy. It goes contrary to every instinct you have to play up the emotional tension for everything it's worth (J.R.R. Tolkein takes the crown for exercising the most self-control in this regard). In this case, however, he uses these moments of violence and action as backstory, to set a perfectly fragile, still stage that feels ready to implode at the slightest provocation.

As a good chunk of the novel is set in the North Carolina mountain backwoods, that sense of stillness pervades the book. The only jarring point is the emotionally disturbed twins who have come to live with their aunt after their mother's murder. Their reactions against the world that has perversely misused them juxtaposed with the pristine quiet of nature creates an inherent tension in the setting that ratchets up the impact of what action there is.

The action isn't that remarkable, if I were to lay it all out there. There's not a lot of it until the last third of the book. You don't walk away, though, feeling like you've read a navel-gazing think piece. The closest pop culture reference I can point to is The Night of the Hunter, which is a freaking terrifying and tense movie. In fact, if you haven't seen it, I'd recommend it as a prerequisite to reading the book. The book seems to owe a lot to the actual plotting and overall tone to that film, but it does not feel derivative. Rather, it's a retelling, in the same vein that fairy tales are retold. They are fascinating to compare and contrast (also toss in The Shining, for good measure).

There's also the best love story I've read in years laced throughout the book. Innocent but not implausible, it is two people who are slightly adrift from what society expects and who find each other in an undramatic but personally significant way. I loved how Frazier conveyed ideas about partnership, redemption, and protectiveness without ever veering into the realm of cloying sweetness or Twilight. Really, it was superbly done and satisfying without being pat or facile. 

Basically, I thought this was great. At it's heart, this is a quiet book about recovery from the traumas of life and I'm bummed it didn't seem to get as much love last year as it should have, but it's a must-read for lovers of contemporary Southern fiction.


5 - It's really good; well written and pleasurable 

What was the last book you read with a good creepy plot + tender love story combo?


1 comment:

  1. 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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