Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier
I picked this one up because I loved Cold Mountain, Frazier's first novel, which takes place during the Civil War. Nightwoods, which takes place in 1960s Appalachia, paled in comparison. Luce is the caretaker of an old, decrepit resort lodge, and after her sister is brutally killed by her evil husband, Bud, she finds herself to be the guardian of her sister's mute, damaged children. Bud gets away with the crime and comes after the children, convinced that they have his money.
We know from Cold Mountain that Frazier has a gift for writing, but Nightwoods suffers from too much description of place and weak description of characters and story. The plot plods along until the end, when it finally explodes in a few pages. As a writer/editor, I didn't particularly care for the incomplete sentences and odd lack of quotation marks (Frazier's style).
I didn't feel much sympathy for any of the characters, even the main character, Luce. I appreciated the fact that she took her sister's children in and tried to become the surrogate mother than she never had herself...but beyond that she was a bit hollow. What had she been doing all those years since high school? How old was she? What did she look like? We just didn't get a real sense of her. That goes for the other characters too...what made them into who they were?
This book is a coldhearted reminder of how children can be so easily damaged by neglect, cruelty, and violence. It's a brutal story, but without a whole lot of redemption in it.