One of my favorite lines in Nightwoods is: “Luce was not much maternal.” She is young, single, and childless, but by the time you finish this book you’ll be cheering her wonderful instincts and intuition. Charles Frazier’s third novel takes place in the 1960s in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. His writing is spare and poetic, and he tells a wonderful story.
Luce inherits her sister’s children after their stepfather, Bud, murders their mother, Lily. As victims of terrible abuse by him, they do not speak, but act out by setting fires and killing Luce’s rooster. She is the caretaker of a hunting lodge that hasn’t had a guest in over fifty years, and when the owner dies, Luce stays on and enjoys her life of solitude – most of the time. When the children arrive she takes her responsibilities seriously and sets out to give them the best life she can. Soon the owner’s grandson, Stubblefield, comes back to claim his inheritance and falls in love with Luce all over again. He had spent the summers with his grandfather and never forgot her.
After Bud is acquitted of Lily’s murder, he comes to the mountains looking for the children. Lily had hidden his large cache of stolen money just before she was murdered, and he believes the children hold the key to its recovery. They’re prone to run off and not come when called, but the first time they see Bud sneak into their house, they take the neighbor’s horse and head high into the mountains. Luce and Stubblefield must find the children before they fall victim to Bud or the harsh environment. By the end of the story you have a feeling that things might start to turn around for all of them – just maybe.