Nightwoods: A Novel

by Charles Frazier

Hardcover, 2011

Call number




Random House (2011), Edition: First Edition, 272 pages


Fiction. Literature. Thriller. Historical Fiction. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER   Charles Frazier, the acclaimed author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons, returns with a dazzling novel set in small-town North Carolina in the early 1960s. With his brilliant portrait of Luce, a young woman who inherits her murdered sister’s troubled twins, Frazier has created his most memorable heroine. Before the children, Luce was content with the reimbursements of the rich Appalachian landscape, choosing to live apart from the small community around her. But the coming of the children changes everything, cracking open her solitary life in difficult, hopeful, dangerous ways. In a lean, tight narrative, Nightwoods resonates with the timelessness of a great work of art.   “Impossible to shake.”—Entertainment Weekly   “Fantastic.”—The Washington Post   “Astute and compassionate.”—The Boston Globe.… (more)

Media reviews

Among James Fenimore Cooper’s many literary offenses, Mark Twain charged, was “surplusage.” The word’s undue thickness perfectly matches its meaning. It also feels of a piece with Cooper’s own prose, and likewise Charles Frazier’s: elegantly archaic-sounding, rough-cut and contrived.

User reviews

LibraryThing member karieh
There is an all encompassing quiet that muffles “Nightwoods”. Perhaps it is due to the remote location of much of the story. Perhaps it comes from the detached nature of the main characters. Or maybe it comes from the overwhelming presence of Nature…and the sense that regardless of the human
Show More
drama that takes place in the story, Nature will eventually reclaim these woods and restore balance.

The main character, Luce, seems to grasp this instinctually, and she accepts her minor role in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes she seems far older than she is, because of this and because of all that she has gone through in her life.

“That night in bed, WLAC playing low and not helping much, Luce couldn’t sleep for thinking about the black hole. She didn’t spend a second wondering what creatures live down there. One look and she knew nothing lived there. Life would only be in the way. The black hole was before life and beyond life. If you dipped a ladle of that water and drank it, visions would come so dark you wouldn’t want to live in the world that contained them. You’d be ready to flee toward the other darkness summed up in death, which is only distant kin to the black hole and the liquid it cups. A darkness left over from before Creation. A reminder of the time before light. Before these woods and these mountains and the earth and even the sun, there was a black hole filled with black water. The black held no reference to the green world around it. And what did the green world mean if the black was and forever had been?”

The visuals in the book are amazing. Naturally, the descriptions of the woods are the most breathtaking, but even simple interior scenes are described in such a way that the reader can see and smell everything around.

“Luce hadn’t been there since childhood, and yet not even the placement of the candy jar on the mantel had changed. The kind of place where antimacassars draped the backrests of purple velvet chairs, the seat cushions buffed to a pale silver nub by many decades of buttocks dating back nearly to the Grant administration. Bookcases everywhere, filled with leather Miltons and Burnses and Tennysons inscribed on the endpapers with the beautiful looping handwriting of dead people.”

This is not to say that nothing happens in “Nightwoods”. Far from it. The most heinous of human sins take place in these woods, in this small town.

“Hours into the climb, scenery loses its attraction. It’s nothing but ten feet of dirt and leaves in front of his aching feet. Bud is bored and thinking about violence, but trying not to, because violence is best accomplished spur-of-the-moment. Let it happen out of nowhere. Anything else, and you go from being a hothead manslaughterer to nothing but a cold first-degree murderer. Act with great purity – like there’s no past and no future, nothing but the red right now – and there’s a degree of innocence to it, no matter how heinous and bloody the outcome.”

There is a heroine, a villain, and many people in between. And yet even then, there is a sense of quiet. Quiet desperation, quiet grief, quiet hopelessness. The emotions are strong, the actions are fierce…but the results seem to be muffled over time.

“Nightwoods” is a series of terrible events in the lives of its human inhabitants, but the reader closes the book that over time, all will be smoothed over and resume its place in the stillness of this eternal forest.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mzonderm
The action in this story, what there is of it, moves very slowly. For the first half of the book, nothing really happens at all. But then, suddenly, things start happening and connections start being made, and I couldn't help but feel that I missed some sort of catalyst in the narrative. It is
Show More
entirely possible that I did miss some important bit, but since I'm pretty sure that I actually read every page, it seems more likely that Frazier decided that his readers would take a bit of the action on faith. In something like the reverse of dramatic irony, characters are suddenly referring to conversations and relationships of which the reader is unaware.

This kind of storytelling leaves me scratching my head and flipping back through the book to see if I missed something. (It also has me wondering whether the author chose to relate action to the reader in this way because he couldn't figure out how to actually write the scene where the critical interactions occur.) Frazier is talented enough to pull off these sudden transitions in a way that's not as aggravating as it might be, but I did still feel cheated out of critical parts of an otherwise beautifully told story.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Frazier's novel of the intersection of several lives in mid-twentieth century Appalachia is gorgeously written on the sentence level. Every few pages or so I had to stop and reread a sentence to fully take in the lyricism or the just-so way he put something. The descriptions of place and of nature
Show More
are also exquisitely well done. This is not a nice story, though, and we spend a good deal of time in the heads of and in the company of characters (one in particular) whose deep unpleasantness wore on me, and not in ways I found intriguing or compelling. I also felt held at a distance from some of the other characters--especially the twin children around whom much of the plot entwines--in a way that read a touch literary and unrealistic. This was, I think, very much a your-mileage-may-vary kind of read. There was so much here to like and admire, and readers a little less sensitive to awful characters may respond more favorably toward the whole novel than I did.
Show Less
LibraryThing member susiebrooks
I thoroughly enjoyed Nightwoods; very likeable characters, as well as despicable ones to balance things out. Once again Mr. Frazier did not disappoint. I’m finding it more and more challenging to find those page turners I love so much, but this was a good one and I highly recommend it.
LibraryThing member mikedraper
"Nightwoods," tells the story of the hardships of living in Appalachia in North Carolina in the 1960s.

Luce lives by herself in an old lodge that was built as a summer retreat. When the owner died, she took it upon herself to act as caretaker.

She inherits her murdered sister's twins. She feels that
Show More
she had no other choice since the alternative would be to have the twins split up and palced in adoption agencies.

This is an example of Naturalism in literature when heredity and the character's environment predetermine the course of action for the character with little that the character could do to change their outcome.

Bud is the children's father and a cold blooded killer. He reminded me of the wonderful character Anton Chiguth from "No Country for Old Men."
As his path and that of Luce and the twins begins to converge, the suspense mounts and the book is hard to put down.

Charles Frazier is a wonderful author and this novel reaffirms his place as one of the best novelists working today.
Show Less
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
[Nightwoods] begins with this scenario---a woman named Luce has taken in twins--a boy and a girl--who do not speak. Gradually we learn that their mother was Luce's sister, who met a tragic end at the hands of a man who also may have abused the children. It is unclear whether the children used
Show More
language before witnessing their mother's murder, but they are certainly traumatized now, and Luce is guided by pure instinct in her efforts to protect them and give them a sense of security. Her lifestyle is unconventional, to say the least, but it suits her, and gives the children a freedom they seem to appreciate. Unfortunately, they have a great affinity for and fascination with fire. There's a Faulknerian feel to these kids which Frazier must have fully intended. I was reminded of Byron Snopes' half-Indian children in Faulkner's [The Town] the minute I met them. Those little demons didn't speak, and were not to be trusted with matches either. Frazier's children, however, are more fearful than fearsome, unless you're a rooster. This book has an incredible sense of place, vivid characters, a gripping story, plenty of suspense and a bit of romance. A couple reviewers have used the term "Appalachian gothic" to describe it; that diminishes its strengths, I think.
Show Less
LibraryThing member RBeffa
Beautiful prose. A direct style. Haunting evocative images arise from the novel. Charles Frazier is clearly a master of words. Charles Frazier's first novel, "Cold Mountain" really knocked me out when I read it a dozen or more years ago. Frazier is not a prolific writer so I was really looking
Show More
forward to this when I heard it was coming out.

It is a dark story. It made me sad. Our main character, Luce, is a common sense kind of person. I was drawn to her immediately. I wanted better for Luce, who has taken on an undeserved burden. Luce has not had an easy life, but she was now living a quiet life by herself away from the crowds as the caretaker of an old lodge in the rural North Carolina mountains, until she is given custody of the two feral children of her recently murdered sister. They are not only feral but pyromaniacs of a bad sort. And then on top of that, the sick twisted murderer, her sister's husband "Bud", gets a "get out of jail free" card and comes a lookin. Not a sweet story. Many people, in their lives, take on undeserved burdens. So this appeared to be Luce's burden and story. Luce had a simple outlook on life, which we are told early on: "All her life, the main lesson Luce had learned was that you couldn't count on anybody. So she guessed you could work hard to make yourself who you wanted to be and yet find that the passing years had transformed you beyond your own recognition. End up disappointed in yourself, despite your best efforts."

At first I had to force myself to read this book slow. It would be all too easy to read this in a rush, because the story pulls one into it powerfully. But I wanted to drink in this writing. I wanted to keep the taste on my mental tongue and savor it. But the book itself sort of slowed itself down and it was easy to read a chapter or two at a time and reflect before picking the story back up.

The book had such a dark tone to it that the romance that came in the second part of the novel surprised me and was a good touch. More than that. So what exactly was this story? We have wonderful descriptions of a rural off the track life and environment. But is this just another "bad things happen to good people" story? For a good part of the story I rather disliked the two children who more or less upended Luce's life. Their good for nothing father was pure scum. I eventually gained a bit of sympathy for the children when they finally began to open up. There are some well drawn supporting characters in the novel also. In some small way this dark powerful novel pleased me. I think maybe this story tells us that even in dark times there can be an unfailing spirit. We can pull up strength to persevere and even transform ourselves. This book is going to be in my head for a long time. Recommended.

I received an ARC of Nightwoods through the LibraryThing early reviewer program. I do not think this influenced my review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mrstreme
Charles Frazier is a dynamic writer. His sentences are beautifully crafted, conjuring up images that put the reader right into the story. His first book, Cold Mountain, was nothing short of phenomenal. When his second book, Thirteen Moons, was released several years ago, I began reading it with
Show More
eagerness - only to stop midway, disappointed with the plot and characters. So, when Nightwoods became available, I wanted to give Frazier another try. People have sophomore slumps, and I was hoping that was the case for this talented writer.

Nightwoods is the story of Luce, a young woman whose personal life was marked by tragedy and bad family relationships. She agrees to become the caretaker of an old, abandoned lodge in the North Carolina mountains - a place where she can be alone and away from people who inevitably hurt her. Tragically, Luce's sister was murdered, and the state wants to place her sister's twins into Luce's care. When the twins arrive, Luce knows she has her work cut out for her. The twins, Dolores and Frank, won't say a word and have a liking to starting fires. Luce, once alone and carefree, must now accept her fate as a guardian of very troubled children.

Luce's situation is compounded when her sister's husband (and murderer) arrives in town, looking for money that he believes Luce is in possession of. Bud is a no-good, violent man, and Luce knows he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Frazier's superb writing style is in full force throughout Nightwoods. The reader gets a look at North Carolina mountain life - the good, bad and ugly. Unfortunately, I felt Frazier went to some extremes with his characters, especially the twins and their adventure during the last chapters of the book. As a fan of character-driven stories, this was a disappointment for me. But I am happy that Frazier seems to be on his game again, as Nightwoods is certainly a better story than Thirteen Moons.

So if you loved Cold Mountain like me, go ahead and get a copy of Nightwoods. Know it's not perfect - but sit back and lavish in the wonderful writing of Charles Frazier.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cariola
Frazier is a master at decription, and he doesn't disappoint in this novel set in the Carolina backwoods in the 1960s. Luce, a single woman who has lived as caretaker of a deserted lodge for years, has taken in her murdered sister's two children. Frank and Delores don't speak, don't trust anyone,
Show More
and have a penchant for starting fires. While Luce suspects that someone--perhaps her sister's killer, who she believes was responsible, despite his exoneration--has badly hurt them, their silence keeps their secrets. Inevitably, Bud, the children's stepfather, arrives on the scene, bent on discovering if the children know where stolen money may have been hidden and on making sure that their silence is permanent.

Frazier throws in a number of secondary characters for good measure: Maddie, the neighbor who doles out homespun wisdom and folk medicine; Stubblefield, who loved Luce as a boy and finds that he loves her still; Lit, Luce's drug-addicted lawman father who befriends the killer, Bud. But to me, the book, while enjoyable, was full of clichés, both in characters and in plot. Frazier can and has done better. I'm still hoping for a novel that comes close to his Cold Mountain.
Show Less
LibraryThing member phlegmmy
In it's review of Cold Mountain, Newsweek magazine stated "Natural-born storytellers come along only rarely. Charles Frazier joins the ranks of that elite cadre on the first page of his astonishing debut." In his third novel Frazier proves himself to be, not just a natural-born storyteller, but a
Show More
master of the craft. This well paced novel builds to a nail-biting conclusion and once you begin, you may as well settle in for the long haul, because you will not want to put it down. Frazier's descriptions of the land has you almost smelling the hemlocks and feeling the cold of the lake and the pitch darkness of the mountains at night and his prose is flawless. This book was a delight to read. I wish I could write a review that does justice to the book. Just read it. You won't regret it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Jim53
There is much to like about Nightwoods. Luce, the main character, is interesting and often admirable. She lives in an abandoned resort motel near a town on a lake in western North Carolina, earning a small stipend as a caretaker. After her sister is murdered, she takes in her traumatized niece and
Show More
nephew. One of the things Frazier does very well is his depiction of the children, not a common accomplishment in modern fiction.

Bud, her murderous brother-in-law, thinks the children have taken a large amount of cash that he had stolen, so he follows them to the small town. There he takes over the local pill-pusher's business and strikes up an odd friendship with the police chief. There is not a lot of subtlety to Bud's character; this is one of the book's primary failings.

Events progress to an end that seems inevitable, but is somehow lacking in its depiction. Frazier wants to imbue it with a mystical quality but doesn't quite succeed. He does succeed quite well, however, in using well chosen language and structure to establish and support his tone of menace and mystery. The lack of precise details--we don't know exactly where we are, how old the characters are, etc.--enhances the sense of fable. Overall a very nice read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BugsyBoog
Set in 1960s North Carolina, this author is able to capture the beauty of the wilderness and the injustices in life through Luce’s story. Luce inherits her murdered sister’s two traumatized children, changing her solitary lifestyle in ways she cannot foresee. Luce, with her own traumatic past,
Show More
does what she can to get the children to interact with things other than fire and killing chickens. Things go slowly but well for them until the sister’s murdering husband comes to town, intent on finding his stolen money, believing it is with the children. Bud’s presence in town causes some interesting turns, including his strange friendship with the town’s policeman, Lit.

This was a really great read, with the author revealing the characters’ pasts bit by bit, allowing the reader to totally understand and sympathize with the characters. This book has plenty of blood, trauma, and murder, but the other descriptions have this amazing gentleness, reflecting the way Luce welcomes the children into her quiet, solitary lifestyle in nature. The story is good, but the style of writing is truly unique and well worth the experience. Charles Frazier is an accomplished writer, allowing the reader to appreciate the beauty of the wilderness.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jules72653
I was not as impressed with this book as I'd hoped. I didn't care a bit about the characters, least of all the two kids. I don't know what the author has against quotation marks to indicate dialogue but it sure threw me off. The ending at the big hole in the earth was predictable but fell short. I
Show More
did not like that there was not a definite conclusion for Bud's character.
Show Less
LibraryThing member samfsmith
An excellent novel. Frazier has all the right tools in his arsenal. Nightwoods tells the story of Luce, who inherits her sister’s twin children, after her sister is murdered by her husband. The children witness the murder, and are damaged by the experience and the abuse they suffered at the hands
Show More
of their father. They don’t speak, they kill chickens, and they start fires. A suspenseful plot pulls the reader along.

The other significant character is the setting, the mountains of western North Carolina and other areas of the South, from the 1960s. Maybe this is why I enjoyed the novel so much – that is the South of my childhood, and it rang true and vivid for me.

Much better, in my opinion, that Frazier’s Cold Mountain or Thirteen Moons. It is violent, but the ending is much more satisfactory than his earlier novels. Highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member readaholic12
Steeped in place and history, rich in characters, perspective and story, Nightwoods by Charles Frazier is a suspenseful, engaging and enlightening read. I admit to some bias as a reader very familiar and enamored with the mountains of North Carolina, and one who loves a strong female character, but
Show More
I believe this novel is an exceptional piece of writing told in a unique and talented voice. I marked dozens of passages to reread the insightful prose and revisit the symbolism, philosophy and poetry in the author's words. Though not nearly as bleak as Cormack McCarthy's The Road, there is a similarity in sparseness in grammar and punctuation that contributes to the story, as well as a sense of inevitability comingled with hope and despair that permeates the pages. I was equally reminded of Amy Bloom's stunning novel Away, as both works feature exquisite style, an indifferent landscape that is as much character as setting, and a testament to the lengths a human will travel in the name of love. Bloom's Lillian believes that we live and we love the world, and we kid ourselves that the world loves us back. Luce's philosophy is sweet and simple: the natural world would go on and on just fine whether you watched it or not. Your existence was incidental. It is clear that Charles Frazier pays attention to the world around him, and in his writing he bears witness to its benign beauty.

I highly recommend reading Nightwoods for the story, the prose and the talented craftsmanship Frazier draws upon to create this work of art.
Show Less
LibraryThing member pdebolt
I loved the writing in this book. The descriptions of Frazier's beloved North Carolina Appalachian mountain regions are breathtaking and vivid. Luce, the heroine, is a recluse living with the owner's permission in an abandoned hunting lodge. She is portrayed in haunting prose that makes her very
Show More
real. When her murdered sister's two children come to live with her, she is forced to relinquish tranquility to take care of these almost-feral twins. Her sister's murderer is Luce's brother-in-law, exonerated in an unlikely scenario. At this point, there is a battle of good vs. evil that is reminiscent of an old-time western when the damsel in distress is aided by a newly-introduced suitor to outwit the "bad guy" who is in a desperate search for the money that he thinks the children can access. This novel is, for me, long on style and short on substance. I thought the plot was thin and the characters stereotypical with the exception of Luce. Maybe I shouldn't be as disappointed as I am with the plot and should just acknowledge the beautiful writing, but I probably wouldn't have finished it had I not received it as an ER book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member squirrelsohno
Nightwoods is a story that evokes emotion from the reader, both through the story itself and the authentic voice of the narrator. Luce is a woman who has been cast aside by society and by herself, left on the fringe. She comes to be the caretaker of her murdered sister’s twins and from here, the
Show More
story evolves into an engrossing tale that hooks the reader and refuses to let them go until the very last page.

I would describe Luce as the type of person I would personally want to hang out with, if she were real, that is. As uncomfortable as she is in her own skin, she never once compromises herself and her values for those around her. Her voice is authentic and rings from page one. I felt myself identifying with her and her plight, keeping me entranced by the story as I desperately turned the pages to find out what happened next in her life.

Charles Frazier is a favorite author of mine, and this book does not disappoint. With a rich story and Frazier’s remarkable talents as a storyteller, the story is a can’t miss tale that takes you to Appalachia and surrounds you immediately with rich prose and an amazing story. And I loved trying the bacon with popcorn mentioned in the book. That alone is worth some praise.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BAP1012
Another beautiful book by Charles Frazier. This book is about a self-exiled woman named Luce who has the care of her young niece and nephew thrust upon her when her sister is murdered by her husband. The children's stepfather is out to find them believing the children have taken his valuables. The
Show More
story is set in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1960s. Frazier crafts this novel - it's as if each word is carefully chosen. Vivid images for each scene come through and his clever turns of phrase never stop delighting me.

I enjoyed Cold Mountain tremendously but it wasn't until Thirteen Moons that I really came to understand just how talented he is. I was absolutely delighted to receive Nightwoods through the Early Readers program. Although I signed up for others, this is the ONE I wanted and I was not disappointed. Thank you LT!
Show Less
LibraryThing member maneekuhi
Nightwoods, #3 from Chas Frazier after the excellent "Cold Mountain" and the fair "Thirteen Moons". NW falls somewhere between the two. About two kids who wind up living with their mom's sister in North Carolina? in the 60"s? 50'S? Little details like time and place and character's ages are not
Show More
specified. I guess we're being told that those details don't really matter. A number of interesting characters, but a few who are not as interesting as the author seems to want them to be, eg, old lady Maddy. I grew to like the kids who seem to be about 5-6 years old. They have suffered from some non-specific trauma linked to the murder of their Mom by her then husband who now wants to eliminate witnesses, namely the kids, Dolores and Frank. Lots of description about trees and vegetation, and what the mountain is like on a cold fall night, lots of description. Story kinda peters out toward the end where you might expect a highly charged climax. At least the hero (if there is one here) does not get killed in the closing pages of the book. A generous 3 1/2 stars, completed 9/30.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
The extraordinary author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons returns with a dazzling new novel of suspense and love in small-town North Carolina in the early 1960s.
LibraryThing member Coyote99
Enjoyed Nightwoods, but was a little let down by the ending. Frazier's writing saved it. You could hear the voices in your head, his dialog was so wonderful.
LibraryThing member GypsyJon
Charles Frazier is a fine writer and word smith. This book deals with a family living in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I will not try to outline the story of the book here, however it is compelling, with wonderful characters set in the 1960's. Frazier wrote Cold Mountain which was also a
Show More
wonderful book later made into a decent movie. I heartily recommend Nightwoods.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jmg12
A good idea but maybe it felt a little bit like a screen play dying to be made into a movie. I still love his style and there are some beautifully written moments of North Carolina people and life.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I urge you to take this journey into "Nghtwoods"! Charles Frazier has created a marvelous contrast between lyrical prose and a dark tale of emotional damage and its resolution. Luce, the protagonist, is a powerful mix of wounded creature and earth mother. She is presented with her sister's
Show More
children, twins, Dolores and Frank, who are emotionally damaged almost beyond redemption. However, Luce's instincts and the night woods open the door to potential transformation. A dark, harrowing, yet hopeful story, this novel has met all three of my criteria for excellence in terms of use of language, memorable characters, and a wonderful plot!
Show Less
LibraryThing member Kelslynn
Nightwoods is set in a very small town deep in the Appalachian Mountains, where the location imposes itself on the very lives of the people there. Luce is almost a hermit, living a solitary caretaker's life in a once grand Lodge, until she becomes the guardian of her dead sister's twins Delores and
Show More
Frank. They do not speak or respond to others, are pyromaniacs and do not like to be touched. Luce teaches them what she knows, mostly based on her knowledge of the flora and fauna where she lives.

There are other characters in the book who come to be integral to the story: Maddie, a spinster lady with a horse name Sally; the younger Stubblefield, a man Luce's age who has come home to see what his father has left him (among other things the Lodge); Lit, Luce's estranged father and the drug abusing sheriff of the town; Bud, the twins' father and Luce's sister's husband, who is an ex-con hellbent on finding the money Luce's sister hid from him.

Although much of the novel is bleak, there is hope - for Luce, for Stubblefield, for the twins.
Show Less


Southern Book Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 2012)
North Carolina Book Awards (Winner — Fiction — 2012)
Weatherford Award (Fiction — 2011)




140006709X / 9781400067091
Page: 0.375 seconds