I still remember the day my boss brought me this book. It was the summer of 2012, and I looked at it and thought, “Well, I guess I’m going to read this book before I read Cold Mountain.” And I was right. I did. Just like I read Solar before Atonement, and Beatrice and Virgil before The Life of Pi. I did not think it would be three and a half years before I read Nightwoods, of course. When my boss gave me this book to read it was several months into us having our blog, and a few months into the AP English Challenge. Prior to starting the blog I was working through my “Cathy Books” pretty efficiently, to the detriment of my own book piles, but remember, this was 2012. I had no blog posts to write, no exercising to do. I basically read and ate back then. It was sort of awesome. Sort of not, too. But that’s cool. It was a different time, those early 2010’s. I’ll have time later on to read.
Nightwoods tells the story of Luce, a young-ish woman who lives in semi-solitude working as a caretaker of a lodge in the woods outside her hometown. The circumstances of how Luce came to be living alone out there are shown, not told, as the book goes on. The first thing I noted and appreciated about Frazier’s writing style is that he definitely shows the reader, and doesn’t spend a lot of time in exposition, which is kind of nice—I felt like he trusted me to figure it all out in due time. One thing it took me a little while to figure out was the approximate time frame of the story. I knew it wasn’t present day, but it could have been the eighties or the seventies, for all I knew. Eventually I figured out it was the early sixties, but then I felt like an idiot because it actually said that on the back of the book….
So, Luce lives alone, and her sister’s two children, who are weird, and like to start fires, come to live with her because her sister was murdered, probably by her husband (but not the kids’ dad), though he was not found guilty for the crime since there were no witnesses, and this was the sixties. Gradually Luce’s world opens up as she cares for the children, and then Stubblefield, the grandson of the owner of the lodge, shows up, and her world opens up some more. Then, a new bootlegger named Bud comes to town, and it turns out that he’s the guy who probably murdered Luce’s sister. He gets in with Lit, the town sheriff and Luce’s estranged father, and basically roams around town selling pills and booze. Eventually things come to a head with Bud, and there’s a big chase through the woods. But that’s all the summary you’re getting from me.
I loved this book. There was just something about it that appealed to me. The scenery descriptions are beautiful, even when the location being described is a very gloomy, dark, deep pit of water in the middle of the forest. Frazier’s manner of storytelling pushed me along as well. Like I mentioned above, he is very much an author who shows you the plot rather than telling you. There are no periods of exposition here. Every detail we learn about the characters is revealed in its own good time. And I definitely kept going some nights when I was reading in bed in the hope that a tiny detail about what happened to Luce before she went to live at the Lodge. Luce is a sympathetic protagonist, though I almost feel like we could stand to learn more about her. Those tiny details are scattered like breadcrumbs throughout the book, and I wanted more of them! She was just so interesting to me; she seemed like she was trapped in the wrong decade. And some of the characters were definitely a bit two-dimensional, but I’m kind of okay with it. Actually, let me modify that statement. I’m ambivalent about how one-sided Bud is. He is one hundred percent awful, terrible human being. I can appreciate a complete villain in these days of the sympathetic bad guy, the “vampires who sparkle” characters, as it were. Those characters can be exhausting sometimes, what with their “Oh, I killed ten people but I did it to save five hundred orphans” moral dilemmas. I sort of think that the characters of Lit and Stubblefield served to highlight Luce’s struggle to leave behind her past (Lit) to go towards her future (Stubblefield and the twins).
Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think that this book could have been longer. I wasn’t ready for it to be done when it was over, and after the past few months that’s a happy thing for me to say. I mean, I loved The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but it was a long one. And of course there’s The Great Glass Sea, the book that set me behind on my 2015 reading challenge. I never quite recovered my reading momentum after that book in the fall. It was like it sucked the joy from the rest of the year or something. I can’t quite explain it. And I want to just put it behind me. New year, new and improved attitude, and all that.
So, yeah. I think most people would enjoy this book. I don’t know how it stacks up to Frazier’s other two novels, Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons, so I can’t speak to that. Taken on its own merits, Nightwoods was an enjoyable, and reasonably fast, read. I think that it could be a good book for discussion or a book club or something, because I’d really like to talk to someone about it one day.