When Luce is appointed guardian for her dead sister Lilly’s young twins, her reclusive life in the back woods of a small mountain town changes forever. Frank and Dolores are not like other children. Witnesses to their mother’s murder at the hands of her abusive boyfriend Bud, their short past holds trauma and darkness that few will ever experience. But Luce has, and while she will never be able to shower them with expressions of motherly love, she comes to understand them better than anyone else ever could. When they kill her roosters, light various items on fire, and refuse to speak, she teaches instead of punishing. By taking them on long rambles in the foothills, Luce endeavors to instill in the twins the great healing interacting with the natural world has provided her. She doesn’t use force or lecture them, just allowing the simple lessons of observation and wonder to sink in.
Bud is an unsuccessful, small-time criminal, embarrassed that he has to rely on his girlfriend Lilly for support. When he unexpectedly successfully steals ten thousand dollars, the situation only gets worse: Lilly hides his money before he can drink it all away. Incensed, Bud’s behavior becomes more and more violent, until one day Lilly catches him in a monstrous act involving her twin children. She tries to kill him on the spot, but Bud murders her instead. Since the only witnesses were her kids, whom Bud is convinced are retarded since they refuse to speak, shaking the charges is a snap. The real problem is that he never found out where Lilly hid his money, but a sudden brainstorm convinces him that it must be with those kids and their aunt, Lilly’s sister Luce. So he sets out to the mountains to get back his cash, and to ensure that no one will ever be able to accuse him of Lilly’s murder.
Frazier’s third novel is a linguistic feast, combining a suspenseful plot and deep insight into the nature of love, revenge, and survival. It becomes apparent that the land, particularly the forest, is a character in this tale just as much as the men and women are, and its all-encompassing presence fills this satisfying read to the brim.
Nightwoods was the winner of the 2012 Sir Walter Raleigh Award.
Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.