- Virginia Johnson
Her sister’s young twins came to Luce after a hard patch. Which is to say, having their mother meet her end most violently at the hands of their stepfather. They were odd children, quiet to the point of not speaking and not looking people in the eye. Ever. They had some disturbing habits, too, which spoke of far more having been done to their small selves than they would fess to. Not that they were fessing to anything, encased as they were in their eerie, shared silence. In Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods, their eccentric Aunt Luce and the North Carolina mountain she calls home promise nothing to them, yet they do provide a haven—for a while.
Set in the 1960s as Nightwoods is, justice can be a haphazard thing, and communication relies on the personally manned telephone exchange. A telephone girl herself once, Luce couldn’t find justice after her own in-town ordeal, so she took a job caretaking an old, nearly abandoned mountain resort. With dozens of moldering rooms featuring wonderful views, Luce has an abandoned mansion to herself, and she has learned to enjoy the natural compensations of such a solitary life beyond civilization.
When the children come, they bring still-young Luce not so much joy as a puzzle and a responsibility. Using her perception and nonconforming intellect, she hopes to keep them alive in the wilderness long enough that the isolation and the wilderness itself may heal them. But their quiet existence is due to be threatened.
Charles Frazier, author of the award-winning, made-into-movie Cold Mountain, is a gifted storyteller. Nightwoods weaves the slow suspense of Southern gothics with characters of more independent mountain ways. Somehow, the importance of family and a touch of hopeful romance work their way into the design, leaving readers replete, having been told a good story—one that acknowledges the darkness but also knows enough to shine a lantern.
If you like Nightwoods, you might also enjoy Manly Wade Wellman’s Valley So Low: Southern Mountain Stories and his Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad novels, beginning with If Every I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, are also set in the North Carolina mountains. With these books, readers can enjoy that same plain lyricism while the authors tell of mysteries set in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.