Monday, January 21, 2013

Rereading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman's eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward. He flapped the flies away with his hands and looked across the foot of his bed to an open triple-hung window. Ordinarily he could see to the red road and the oak tree and the low brick wall. And beyond them to a sweep of fields and flat piney woods that stretched to the western horizon. The view was a long one for the flatlands, the hospital having been built on the only swell within eyeshot. But it was too early yet for a vista. The window might as well have been painted grey. 

Cold Mountain is an amazing novel, not only of the Civil War, but also of one man's journey. Inman has been injured, and has grown sick of the war. He sets out to return to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and to his sweetheart, Ada. Meanwhile, her father has died, and she is grappling with rural farm life, helped by Ruby, a surprisingly strong girl. Their two stories interweave (my favorite), as Inman meets with all sorts of characters -both friendly and malignant- on his journey through the dying South. The back cover calls it an "authentic American Oydyssey." I don't know if I would go that far, but it certainly is a good novel. I hear it's going to be made into an opera at Santa Fe in 2015. I may go see it (since I go to the opera festival often). At first thought, I didn't think Cold Mountain would make a good opera. But it might. It's the kind of story that is so individual, but also so universal, good opera material, I think. I look forward to (possibly) seeing Jennifer Higdon's interpretation. In the meantime, I enjoyed rereading this excellent story.

Truth be told, I didn't remember much about Cold Mountain except for the basic story-line. The language that Charles Frazier uses really is beautiful; sparse yet descriptive. Simple, yet elegant and fitting. I wouldn't say it's great writing, but I would certainly say that it's very, very good writing. Not much of a difference, come to think of it.

The characterization is a bit vague, but perhaps it's meant to be that way. Inman could be any man stricken by the war, trying to get home to his lover, and Ada could be any woman, struggling to survive in a world where her father is dead and all the men her age soon will be. Or are gone, at any rate. Yet each character is also unique in their own way, and I think that pretty much sums up the entire novel. As I said, universal, but highly individual.

Also, I guess I just find the South of that time so interesting. So contradictory. They kept slaves and sometimes treated them brutally, but they also had their own way of life, a life that the whites at least were happy with. It's not that I sympathize with them, more that I think I can at least understand. Plus, the South has produced so many great writers: Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty (though I haven't read her yet). Oddly enough, all female. I don't know if I would rank Charles Frazier among them, but Cold Mountain is another example of a wonderful work of Southern fiction, one that I would highly recommend.

Coincidentally enough, I reread this book right before our Language Arts class started reading historical fiction, this novel being one of them. Funny how these things work out.

Read Cold Mountain:
  • if you like Southern fiction
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in the Civil War
449 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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