Saturday, September 4, 2010
This first novel of Charles Frazier's, which came out in 1977, won critical acclaim for its portrayal of a Confederate soldier’s journey back to his Appalachian mountain home in North Carolina. He was wounded and is still recovering when he decides to desert from the army hospital. He is sickened by war and the killing he has witnessed, and only wants to go home. He is not thinking of reuniting with his family, but with the woman he loves. It’s not clear how long the soldier, Inman, has lived near Cold Mountain, but he loves it and is hankering for it almost as much as for his love, Ada. One reviewer, Charles McGrath of the New York Times, speculated that this book was so popular because of its underlying premise that people were simpler and purer then – that they had a closer tie to the land and to each other. We like these stories, where the journey is fraught with danger and defeat, and we like Ada’s story of a city girl learning to be a farmer, after her father’s death. All of the farming details are satisfying, especially if we don’t have to be there, living through those backbreaking chores. There’s nothing good about war, in Frazier’s viewpoint, and the men who run away are victims to be hounded by Federal troops and local volunteers who are happy to get paid for each deserter they catch. Except they’re not only caught but in many cases killed, for no reason but just meanness and spite. Frazier seems to be saying that there are plenty of villains, but no heroes, just people like Inman dishing out vengeance where needed, although it’s never enough.