Itís the 1950s in Appalachia, and Luceís sister, Lily, has just been murdered. Luce suspects that Bud, Lilyís husband, is responsible for her death, and she decides to take in Lilyís two young children. However, she is completely unprepared for how traumatized the children are after seeing their mother killed in front of them. They run completely wild and refuse to speak. But Luce is determined to protect them from Bud, who knows that these children are the only witnesses to his crime, no matter the cost.
Charles Frazier is famous for his evocative portrayals of North Carolina, and Nightwoods is no exception. Though the novel shares a place with his most famous novel, Cold Mountain, the time is different. Itís the mid-20th century rather than the Civil War, though the book could easily have taken place one hundred years ago or one year ago. It has a certain timeless quality; life hasnít changed much in rural Appalachia over the years, as Frazier makes clear.
Frazierís writing is simply breathtaking in Nightwoods, lush and descriptive. Heís generous with the setting, giving the readers the smallest details in order to make the book come alive. This is a very literary novel; though the book has a suspenseful basic plotline, the story seems to meander at times. It doesnít move quickly, instead letting the reader revel in every word and phrase. If youíre looking for a quick, snappy read, this isnít necessarily the book to pick up. It is, however, a great choice if youíre looking to be completely immersed in a new place.
Luce is a smart character, one readers will appreciate and sympathize with. She has been thrust into a difficult situation over which she has no control. Of course she wants to protect her niece and nephew, but how is she supposed to do that when they refuse to communicate with her, when they ignore her every request? Itís clear the children are absolutely traumatized, but that doesnít make them any easier to deal with. Luce is fiercely loyal; she refuses to compromise her morals, which is a wonderful quality.
Nightwoods is a perfect read if youíre looking for a quiet but moderately suspenseful read. The book moves slowly, but overall Frazier does a solid job incorporating a thriller storyline into a literary novel. If youíre looking for a haunting story of love with three-dimensional characters and an incredible sense of place, this is the book you want to pick up.