Nightwoods: A Novel

By Charles Frazier
Publisher:Random House, (9/27/2011)

Average Rating:
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3.20 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

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The extraordinary author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons returns with a dazzling new novel of suspense and love set in small-town North Carolina in the early 1960s.
Charles Frazier puts his remarkable gifts in the service of a lean, taut narrative while losing none of the transcendent prose, virtuosic storytelling, and insight into human nature that have made him one of the most beloved and celebrated authors in the world. Now, 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.
Charles Frazier is known for his historical literary odysseys, and for making figures in the past come vividly to life. Set in the twentieth century, Nightwoods resonates with the timelessness of a great work of art.
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Steph's thoughts on "Nightwoods: A Novel"
updated on:12/6/2011

It’s telling when two of the most compelling characters hardly have any dialogue.  In Charles Frazier’s (author of Cold Mountain) Nightwoods, those characters are children whose mother has been murdered and stepfather is responsible, according to the murdered woman’s sister, Luce, who has become caretaker to the children.  Luce is another fascinating character.  She lives a secluded and simple life (for which the motivation is made clearer throughout the book), living in and tending to a remote lodge entrusted to her by the deceased owner.  Even though Luce is a young woman, I often visualized her to be more middle-aged.  Likewise, I often forgot that this was set in the 1950s, which I suppose both speak to the timelessness of the story. Another key character to both the Luce and the children and the story is Stubblefield the grandson of the lodge’s original proprieter and eventually Luce’s suitor.  The story itself is just as captivating as the characters.  When the children’s father, Bud, turns up, the peaceful Appalachian town is shaken by cases of murder and missing children.  Bud ingratiates himself to a segment community, including Sherriff Lit who is also Luce's father (and the father of Bud's murdered x-wife) by becoming the local moonshiner.  Like the silence of the children, there is a lot unspoken in this story, although not in a negative way.  The one thing most of these characters experience is a disruption of their simple routine.  Luce by the arrival of the children and Stubblefield by his inheritance of his grandfather’s property and involvement with Luce, and Lit  by the arrival of Bud.  Even though there is a lot of tragedy, I didn't feel the story was weighted by it.  Maddie, Luce’s friend and neighbor, seems representative of that persistence in her steadfast and unfaltering approach to life.  Perhaps also like, Maddie, this was a quietly memorable book with a lot of potential for discussion.    

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Sam's thoughts on "Nightwoods: A Novel"
updated on:12/1/2011

With rich character development and back stories we get to experience the intertwining of some fascinating individuals. Frazier paints a vivid picture of both the landscape of the area and the landscape of the psyches that make up this complex bunch.  The most fascinating part of the book to me was how the back stories along with both the hope or dread of the future effected the present. Bud's past haunting him, paired with his dreading that the children might expose his secrets in the future. Stubblefield with his romantic memories and hope of a relationship. Luce's past creating her solitary life (now completely disrupted) and with her hopes to bring the children out of their shell…. but the kids - they seem to live for the present moment. A very interesting read.

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Nick's thoughts on "Nightwoods: A Novel"
updated on:12/1/2011

For whatever reason, I never really felt like I got the hang of Nightwoods. It wasn't that it was a bad read or that it wasn't well written. On the contrary, I think the prose style is skillful and unique and the characters are artistically drawn. Something about this just didn't quite connect with me. I appreciate Frazier's craft and could definitely understand why his fans like his work, but it was a bit slow-moving and dismal for my taste. Reading this, I felt a bit like I do about some indie films I see: I can see the artistry, but I'm just not that drawn in by watching a bunch of miserable people be miserable. I give Nightwoods plenty of style points, but certainly not the most uplifting holiday read. Though not as bad as the time I brought The Guns of August on vacation as beach reading. Bad idea.

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Ceci's thoughts on "Nightwoods: A Novel"
updated on:11/30/2011

This book is filled with items that normally drive me crazy – deep thoughts, lingering descriptions of nature, and a bad mommy to rival Joan Crawford. Fortunately, Frazier firmly roots all of these elements to his story and his characters, and makes what could have been laughably trite, engaging and meaningful. Luce and the children are at the heart of that, but other characters, make memorable appearances, too. My favorite was Sally the elderly pony, who (deep thought alert) keeps her “ears aimed forward, alert and hopeful for the next significant thing to appear,” while treading the same circular pattern, watching the same scenery go by again and again. I also enjoy a well-done, slow reveal, and Frazier does a good job of this by interweaving “present” day events, flashbacks, character narratives, and utilizing odd, but oddly right, tone and phrasing (“Luce’s new stranger children”, for example – “stranger” both because Luce has never met them and because they are quite peculiar). The pace is slow and maybe a bit sprawling at times, but I actually found myself looking forward to its relaxed rhythm. Still, you know, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I suspect some might find my satisfying “slow reveal” to just be painfully slow.

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Book Junky's thoughts on "Nightwoods: A Novel"
updated on:11/30/2011

Um… huh… weird one. I mean I liked it, but… it seemed to meander a bit. Which made me want to scream "get on with it!" a few times. But I did liked the story. Really well written, except for the meandering. Which probably always served a point, but I just like to get to the point faster. :) And the characters really stick with you. Especially the language patterns. (I found myself giving a lot of one syllable answers to people this month.) As far as book clubbiness…. didn't seem like a lot to discuss. Not a book that you can't stop reading, but not a book you wan to throw across the room either. Read it for the characters and their development, then get some moonshine and THEN discuss with your club. I reckon that would spark things up a bit! 

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"Nightwoods: A Novel"
By Charles Frazier

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.20 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.


Luce’s strategy for dealing with her troubled past is to withdraw from her community, her emotions, and in some sense from life itself. Does Luce find this an effective coping mechanism for dealing with trauma? How does it help her, and how does it hurt her? In our digital world, is it still possible for someone to withdraw in this way?

Obligation or/of Love

Luce feels obligated to care for her sister’s children even though she admits she is not a maternal person and does not love the children. Discuss this choice. How is Luce’s sense of obligation informed by her relationship with her own mother and father?

Elder Friends

Think about Luce’s connection to her elder friends. What is it about Luce that draws her toward Maddie, old Stubblefield, and her grade school teachers?

Post Rape

Think about the scene in which Luce tells Lit about the rape. Is he only being insensitive and rude, or is there a part of him that is actually trying to protect Luce from more pain and disruption, albeit in an insensitive way?

Why the Attraction?

Luce and Stubblefield are alike in some ways, and in others they are very different. Why do you think they are attracted to each other? Discuss which character changes the most over the course of the novel.

The Children

Discuss the children, and their eccentric and violent behavior. Are they misunderstood? Mentally or emotionally disturbed? How do they function as a narrative engine? In today’s environment, a caretaker of these children would probably look for some kind of diagnosis. Apart from abuse, think about what might drive the kids’ behavior that may have been misunderstood in the early 1960s. What are the challenges of raising children without the medical or psychiatric support we take for granted today?

Buddies till the End

Bud and Lit manage to form an unlikely bond. What is Bud looking for in Lit? And what is Lit looking for in Bud? What draws the two men apart, and ultimately leads to Lit’s death?


Blood is a prominent symbol in Nightwoods. How does the metaphor of blood affect your interpretation of the story, and how does it shape Bud’s confused worldview?

The Landscape and the Pit

The beautifully rendered Appalachian landscape plays a central role in Nightwoods. Is the landscape merely a setting for the story? Or is it something more? A symbol? A kind of character? And what do you think the giant pit in the woods represents?

Stubblefield in the Family

In the end, Luce opens up to Stubblefield and accepts that he intends to be a permanent fixture in her life. The children also seem to have accepted him. What do you think of this unlikely, cobbled-together family? What does it say about what makes a family? Will they be successful in making each other whole again?

Where's Bud?

What do you think happened to Bud? Does he continue to represent a threat to Luce, Stubblefield, and the kids?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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A Letter from Author Charles Frazier

Lost in the woods. A dangerous phrase, but also with a resonance of folktale. Hansel and Gretel with their bread crumbs. Jack alone, roaming the lovely, dark, and deep southern mountains. So, young people and old people being lost in the woods has always been interesting to me for those reasons. And also because it happens all the time still.

Back when I was a kid, eight or ten, my friends and I lived with a mountain in our backyards. We stayed off it in summer. Too hot and snaky. But in the cool seasons, we roamed freely. We carried bb guns in the fall and rode our sleds down old logging roads in winter. We often got lost. But we knew that downhill was the way out, the way home. When I grew up and went into bigger mountains, you couldn’t always be so sure. I remember being lost in Bolivia. Or let’s say that I grew increasingly uncertain whether I was still on the trail or not. That’s the point where you ought to sit down and drink some water and consult your maps and compass very carefully and calmly. I kept walking. At some point, it became a matter of rigging ropes to swing a heavy pack over a scary white watercourse. I ended up at a dropoff. Down far below, upper reaches of the Amazon basin stretched hazy green into the distance. Downhill did not at all seem like the way home.

You’ll just have to trust me that this has something to do with my new novel, but to go into it much would risk spoilers. I’ll just say that early on in the writing of Nightwoods, Luce and the children were meant to be fairly minor characters, but I kept finding myself coming back to them, wanting to know more about them until they became the heart of the story. Some of my wanting to focus on them was surely influenced by several cases of kids lost in the woods in areas where I’m typically jogging and mountain biking alone at least a hundred days a year. It’s part of my writing process, though I hardly ever think about work while I’m in the woods. But I do keep obsessive count of how many miles a day I go and how many words I write, lots of numbers on 3x5 notecards. All those days watching the micro changes of seasons can’t help but become part of the texture of what I write, and those lost kids, too.


Praise for Nightwoods:

"Nightwoods is no typical thriller….its dazzling sentences are so meticulously constructed that you find yourself rereading them, trying to unpack their magic...the unhurried, poetic suspense is both difficult to bear and IMPOSSIBLE TO SHAKE."--Entertainment Weekly 

FANTASTIC ... an Appalachian Gothic with a low-level fever that runs alternately warm and chilling.” —The Washington Post

No writer today crafts more exquisite sentences than Charles Frazier.” —USA Today

ASTUTE AND COMPASSIONATE  . . .a virtuoso construction . . . with wickedly wry dialogue reminiscent of the best of Charles Portis, Larry Brown, and Cormac McCarthy.” —The Boston Globe

HIS BEST BOOK TO DATE. Frazier’s exquisitely efficient style is matched by some finely tuned suspense.” —The Times (London)

Frazier has taken a fast-paced genre and subverted it at every turn, offering a closer look at the nature of good and evil and how those forces ebb and flow over time.” —Atlanta Journal Constitution

"...[A] taut narrative of love and suspense, told against a gritty background of bootlegging and violence. The characters are rich and unforgettable, and the prose almost lyrical. This is Charles Frazier at his best. ...Just mention a new novel by the Cold Mountain author, and a line will start forming." 

"...[T]hink Thunder Road meets Night of the Hunter meets old murder ballads. This is a suspenseful noir nightmare, complete with bootleggers and switchblades." 
The Daily Beast

The story makes the book more than worthwhile, and the writing is as good as anything Frazier has created so far. …[G]ripping story and engaging characters.” — Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
“[E]ngages your deep interest....  The book’s ending is masterful, gratifying suspense-seekers as well as readers who like things working on many levels.” — Asheville Citizen-Times
The characters are expertly molded from the very land they inhabit, calling attention to the shallowness of the grave in which our more violent past is buried.” — BookPage


Cold Mountain
“Natural-born storytellers come along only rarely. Charles Frazier joins the ranks of that elite cadre on the first page of his astonishing debut.”—Newsweek
“Prose filled with grace notes and trenchant asides . . . a Whitmanesque foray into America: into its hugeness, its freshness, its scope and its soul . . . such a memorable book.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A rare and extraordinary book . . . heart-stopping . . . spellbinding.”—San Francisco Chronicle
Thirteen Moons
“A boisterous, confident novel that draws from the epic tradition: It tips its hat to Don Quixote as well as Twain and Melville, and it boldly sets out to capture a broad swatch of America’s story in the mid-nineteenth century.”—The Boston Globe
“Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details—he has a scholar’s command of the physical realities of early America and a novelist’s gift for bringing them to life.”—Time
“Magical . . . fascinating and moving . . . You will find much to admire and savor in Thirteen Moons.”—USA Today

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


LUCE'S NEW STRANGER CHILDREN were small and beautiful and violent. She learned early that it wasn't smart to leave them unattended in the yard with the chickens. Later she'd find feathers, a scaled yellow foot with its toes clenched. Neither child displayed language at all, but the girl glared murderous expressions at her if she dared ask where the rest of the rooster went.

The children loved fire above all elements of creation. A heap of dry combustibles delighted them beyond reason. Luce began hiding the kitchen matches, except the few she kept in the hip pocket of her jeans for lighting the stove. Within two days, the children learned how to make their own fire from tinder and a green stick bowed with a shoelace. Tiny cavemen on Benzedrine couldn't have made fire faster. Then they set the back corner of the Lodge alight, and Luce had to run back and forth from the spring with sloshing tin buckets to put it out.

She switched them both equally with a thin willow twig until their legs were striped pink, and it became clear that they would draw whatever pain came to them down deep inside and refuse to cry. At which point Luce swore to herself she would never strike them again. She went to the kitchen and began making a guilty peach pie.

LUCE WAS NOT MUCH MATERNAL. The State put the children on her. If she had not agreed to take them, they would have been separated and adopted out like puppies. By the time they were grown, they wouldn't even remember each other.

Though now that it was probably too late to go back, maybe that would have been a good thing. Separate them and dilute whatever weirdness they shared and ignited between them. Yet more proof, as if you needed it, that the world would be a better place if every-damn-body didn't feel some deep need to reproduce. But God in his infinite wisdom had apparently thought it was an entertaining idea for us to always be wanting to get up in one another.

Also, the children were here, and what was Luce to do? You try your best to love the world despite obvious flaws in design and execution. And you take care of whatever needy things present themselves to you during your passage through it. Otherwise you're worthless.

Same way with the Lodge. Luce didn't own it. She was the caretaker, sort of. Some would call her a squatter now that the old man was dead. But nobody else seemed interested in keeping it from growing over with kudzu until it became nothing but a green mound.

Back at the edge of the previous century, the Lodge had been a cool summer retreat for rich people escaping the lowland steam of August. Some railroad millionaire passing through the highland valley in his own railcar had a vision, or possibly a whim, to build an earthen dam, back the river up, fill the upper end of the valley with water right to the edge of the village. Then, on the far side, build a log lodge of his own design, something along the lines of the Old Faithful Inn, though smaller and more exclusive. He must have been a better railroad executive than architect, because what he built was a raw outsized rectangle, a huge log cabin with a covered porch looking down a sweep of lawn to the lake and across the water to the town. Evidently, rich people were satisfied by simpler things in the yesteryears.

Now the millionaires and the railroad were gone. But the lake remained, a weird color-shifting horizontal plane set in an otherwise convoluted vertical landscape of blue and green mountains. The Lodge persisted as well, a strange, decaying place to live in alone, though. The main floor was taken up by the common rooms, a voluminous lobby with its massive stone fireplace and handsome, backbreaking Craftsman armchairs and settles, quarter-sawn oak tables and cabinets. A long dining room with triple-hung, lake-view windows and, behind swinging doors, a big kitchen with a small table where the help once crowded together to eat leftovers. Second floor, just narrow hallways and sleeping chambers behind numbered six-panel doors with transom windows. Third floor, way up under the eaves, a dark smothering rabbit warren of windowless servants' quarters.

WHEN SHE LIVED ALONE, Luce didn't go to the upper floors often, but not out of fear. Not really. It was little but bedsteads and cobwebs up there, and she didn't want to believe in ghosts or anything similar. Not even the portents of bad dreams. Yet the fading spirit world touched her imagination pretty strong when she was awake at three in the morning, alone in the big place. The dark sleeping floors, with their musty transient pens and cribs for the guests and their help, spooked her. The place spoke of time. How you're here and then you're gone, and all you leave for a little while afterward are a few artifacts that outlive you.

Case in point, old Stubblefield, who had owned the Lodge for the past few decades. Luce visited him several times during his dying days, and she was there at the end to watch the light go out of his eyes. In the final hours, Stubblefield mostly cataloged his possessions and listed who should get what. His concerns were largely real estate, all his holdings to go to his sole useless grandson. Also a few valuable objects, such as his dead wife's silver service and lace tablecloth, perfect but for a slight rust stain at one corner. Barely noticeable. The silver candleholders were a heavy weight on Stubblefield's mind because his wife had loved them so much. Oddly, he left them to Luce, who didn't love them at all and probably never would.

Easy to be disdainful and ironic toward others' false values. Still, Luce hoped that when she was at the same thin margin of life she would be concerned with looking out the window to note the weather or the shape of the moon or some lone bird flying by. Certainly not a bunch of worn-out teaspoons. But Luce was half a century younger than old Stubblefield, and didn't know how she'd think and what she would value if she made it that far down the road. 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. And that's the downward way Luce's thoughts fell whenever she went upstairs into the dreary past.

BEFORE THE CHILDREN, Luce had learned that after dark she'd best keep to the communal lobby, with its fireplace and mildew-spotted furniture and tall full bookshelves and huge floor-standing radio with a tuning ring like the steering wheel to a Packard. She dragged a daybed from a screened sleeping porch to form a triangle of cozy space with the hearth and the radio to make herself a bedroom. The bookshelves held a great many well-read old novels and a set of Britannicas, complete but for a couple of volumes in the middle of the alphabet. Also, nearby, a Stickley library stand with an unabridged 1913 Webster's. The places where you naturally put your hands on the soft binding were stained dark, so that all you could figure was that decades of guests finished a greasy breakfast of sausage biscuits and then right away needed to look up a word.

At bedtime, lamps out, the rest of the big room faded into darkness, only the fire and the radio's tubes sending a friendly glow up the nearby log walls. Luce finally fell asleep every night listening to WLAC out of Nashville. Little Willie John, Howlin' Wolf, Maurice Williams, James Brown. Magic singers proclaiming hope and despair into the dark. Prayers pitched into the air from Nashville and caught by the radio way up here at the mountain lake to keep her company.

Also good company on clear nights, the lights of town. Yellow pinpoints and streaks reflecting on the shimmer of black lake water. One advantage of the village being over there on the other side was the proximity of people as the crow flies, but no other way. By car, it took the better part of an hour to go around the back side of the lake and across the dam and around the shore to town.

The distance seemed shorter when Luce first got to the Lodge, due to a rowboat she found in one of the outbuildings. Town became only twenty minutes away. But the boat was rotting and loose-jointed, and on her first few trips across, she spent as much time bailing with a saucepan as rowing. And she was not much of a swimmer, at least not good enough to make it to either shore from the middle. She dragged the boat up onto the shoreline and let it dry for a few days, and then one evening at dusk, she poured a cup of kerosene on it and burned it. Flames rose chest-high, their reflections reaching across the still water toward town.

After that, when she had been alone for too many days, she walked the half mile to Stubblefield's house, and the half mile farther to Maddie's, and the mile farther to the little country store, where you could buy anything you wanted as long as it was bologna and light bread and milk, yellow cheese and potted meat, and every brand of soft drink and candy bar and packaged snack cake known to man. A four- mile round-trip just to sit in a chair outside the store for a half hour and drink a Cheerwine and eat a MoonPie and observe other human beings. She always carried a book, though, in case she needed to read a few pages to avoid unwanted conversation.

The past Fourth of July, Luce sat on the porch of the Lodge drinking precious brown liquor from the basement and watching tiny fireworks across the water. Bursts that must have filled the sky in town became bubbles of sparks about as big as a fuzzy dandelion at arm's length. As they began fading to black, the distant boom and sizzle finally reached the Lodge. Friday nights in the fall, light from the football field glowed silver against the eastern sky. A faint sound like an outbreath when the home team scored a touchdown. Every Sunday morning, distant church bells from th
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Charles Frazier grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. Cold Mountain, his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller and won the National Book Award in 1997. His second novel, Thirteen Moons, was a New York Times bestseller and named a best book of the year by the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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