Friday, September 28, 2007

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was my reading list selection for September.

I put this on my list for several reasons. Last October I listened to an audio version of Thirteen Moons, also by Charles Frazier (and read by Will Patton). It so favorably impressed me, that I nagged Steve to listen to it. He did, and he liked it so much, he started telling his friends they should read the book, too. We both decided that we should read or listen to Frazier's first book, Cold Mountain, in order to compare the two.

When Cold Mountain first came out - what? maybe ten years ago? - I checked out a copy from the library, made it about four pages into the story, and decided I did not want to read it. A friend later recommended it, saying it was the best book he'd ever read. So I picked it up again, and didn't get far into it (less than a complete chapter) before I realized that I wouldn't read the book. But after enjoying Thirteen Moons I thought I needed to give Frazier's first book a decent chance - and I could tell Hank I finally read the book.

I want to be nice, but I did not like this book. Yes, it was like The Odyssey. But I'm not crazy about that story, either. Yes, the American Civil War was violent and terrible, and the aftermath of Reconstruction was horrible, too. But most of the gruesome scenes Frazier paints are away from the battlefields and in the heartland. It was as if the most grotesque characters from the minds of Erskine Caldwell, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner came together for this book.

To be fair, the chapters detailing Ada's activities read like the "Foxfire" books that came out of Rabun Gap, Georgia. They were interesting, and pleasant, and made a nice juxtaposition to the grim malevolence of Inman's journey back to Ada and Cold Mountain.

And there were several characters, tales, and events that I recognized from Thirteen Moons. Frazier used them in slightly different ways in his second book, and they were better.

Anyway, the plot, briefly:

Inman, a Confederate soldier, seriously wounded in the neck and recuperating in a hospital in Richmond, decides he's done with fighting and wants to go back to his home in North Carolina. It's 1864, and he doesn't believe the war will last much longer. He's tired of fighting, and he longs for a girl, Ada, he knew slightly back in Cold Mountain.

Ada, meanwhile, is alone at home, her father having recently died. Ada has no domestic or farming skills, and isn't doing too well all by herself with no hired help or servants. A young woman named Ruby comes to Ada and suggests that they farm and work together. Ruby is knowledgeable and skilled, and life turns around for Ada.

Inman escapes ("sneaks off" is more like it) the hospital and starts for home. On the way he is chased by Federals and by "home guard" types looking for deserters to shoot or to send back to the front. He meets a variety of weird and often disgusting people, but he is kind, courteous, and helpful (although he has to kill a person or two on occasion).

After weeks/months he does make it back to Ada, declares his love for her, which she returns. They make plans to marry and plan a course of action to take until the war is over.

But there is no happy ending for the two of them. (Ruby gets a happy ending).

Bottom line? If I had to choose only one book by Charles Frazier to read, I'd go with Thirteen Moons.

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Blogger ChristineMM said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts on this book. People have been pushing me to read it since about 1998. Someone even gave me their copy.

Just last month a group of moms I know were talking about how great the book is and how I simply MUST read it.

I have been resisiting reading it for some reason, after reading what you wrote I have no burning desire to read it. I have way too many unread books on my shelves and on my TBR list.

I found you through Semicolon's Blog, the Saturday Review of Books.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Framed said...

I read this book last yearand rated it a 4. Pretty high considering that I haven't wanted to read "Thriteen Moons". I guess I like Frazier's beautiful descriptions but the actually story didn't move me. I may have to re-think "Thirteen Moons."

7:04 AM  
Blogger Tracy Batchelder said...

I loved this book. The only thing I found difficult to get used to was the way Frazier does not use quotation marks when the characters are speaking. I recently read Thirteen Moons, but didn't like that story as much. Frazier is an excellent writer.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Literary Feline said...

I am sorry you didn't care for this one. I haven't really had much of an interest in reading it--or in seeing the movie. I do know a lot of people loved both and so maybe someday should my interest in it rise, I may try it. Until then, there's no hurry. :-) Thanks for the review.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Petunia said...

I have the book but didn't know anything about it. Dispite your not caring much for it it sounds interesting to me. I read the Odyssey this year and really enjoyed it so this sounds up my alley. Once it's read I'll decide about Thirteen Moons.

9:44 PM  

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