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Charles Frazier

Charles Frazier Essay - Critical Essays

Frazier, Charles

Introduction

Charles Frazier Cold Mountain

Frazier is an American novelist.

Frazier chose a difficult and expansive setting for his debut novel, the 1997 National Book Award-winning Cold Mountain (1997), set in the South and based on a family story about Frazier's great-great-grandfather who deserted during the Civil War. Frazier wrote Cold Mountain by researching the time period and the landscape of the North Carolina mountains, then allowing his knowledge of the natural world and his imagination to fill in the rest. In response, many critics have described Frazier as a natural-born storyteller. Cold Mountain follows Inman, a Confederate soldier wounded in battle who deserts before his injury heals enough to force him back to war, and Ada, the woman he loves and to whom he sets out to return. As the daughter of a minister, Ada lived in genteel Charleston society until her father brought her to the remote mountains of North Carolina to live on a farm into which he put some indifferent effort, but not enough to make it a successful venture. When her father dies, Ada, ignorant of farm management, soon finds herself starving but unwilling to return to city life and dependence upon her father's friends. Help arrives in the form of a local girl named Ruby, who knows everything Ada needs for the farm's and her own survival. As Ada learns of manual labor and daily subsistence, Inman encounters a number of people, both friend and foe, on his way to her. Among them are bounty hunters hoping to return him to the war, a widow and her child whom he saves from Yankee soldiers, and a goat-herding woman who heals his wounds.

Reviewers have made note of the parallels between Cold Mountain and Homer's Odyssey, with Inman as Odysseus journeying home to Ada, his Penelope. Critics have also mentioned Frazier's skill with antiquated language in Cold Mountain, many of them asserting that it contributes to the understanding of the story, slowing the pace and forcing the reader to savor each scene. Additionally, many reviewers have praised Frazier's ability to capture the natural world. Claire Messud stated, "He writes evocatively about the region's flora and fauna and about man's relationship to it."

Criticism

David A. Berona (review date 15 May 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Cold Mountain, in Library Journal, May 15, 1997, p. 100.

[In the following review, Berona lauds Cold Mountain as a work that "will enrich readers not only with its story but with its strong characters."]

This monumental novel is set at the end of the Civil War and follows the journey of a wounded Confederate soldier named Inman as he returns home. Interwoven is the story of Ada, the woman he loves. Ada, who was raised in genteel society, cannot cope with the rigors of war until a woman called Ruby arrives to help her. Inman comes across memorable characters like the goatwoman, who lives off the secret herbs in the woods and Sara, a woman stranded with an infant who is assaulted by Yankee soldiers whom Inman later kills. After a long, threatening journey, Inman finally arrives home to Ada, "ravaged, worn ragged and wary and thin." His momentary homecoming, however, comes to a tragic end. A remarkable effort that opens up a historical past that will enrich readers not only with its story but with its strong characters. Highly recommended for all collections.

Mary Carroll (review date 1/15 June 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Cold Mountain, in Booklist, June 1/15, 1997, p. 1656.

[In the following review, Carroll calls Cold Mountain "a satisfying read."]

The Civil War's last months are the setting for this first novel by Frazier, erstwhile college teacher and author of travel books and stories. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, leaves the hospital before his gashed neck heals enough to get him sent back to war. Still weak, he heads for the mountains, where a minister's daughter named Ada is his objective. Inman's return could hardly be timelier for the Charleston-raised Ada: her father has died, and she finds she knows little about operating a farm. Frazier blends the story of Inman's journey with that of Ada's efforts, with the help of a drifter named Ruby, to wring a subsistence living from the neglected land; in the background are the yelping dogs of war (most dramatically, gangs chasing Confederate deserters like Inman), as well as hints of changes the end of war will bring. Cold Mountain, based on a Frazier family story, is a satisfying read, though for some readers elements of the story (e.g., Ada's dependence) are anachronistic.

Malcolm Jones Jr. (review date 23 June 1997)

SOURCE: "A Yarn Finely Spun," in Newsweek, June 23, 1997, p. 73.

[In the following review, Jones offers a highly positive review of Cold Mountain.]

Novelists are never in short supply. Natural-born storytellers come along only rarely. Charles Frazier joins the ranks of that elite cadre on the first page of his astonishing debut, Cold Mountain. A Civil War soldier, Inman, is recuperating from a gunshot wound in an army hospital in Raleigh, N.C., where he passes the time reading naturalist William Bartram's Travels and staring out the window. "The window was tall as a door, and he had imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there." That sentence is like a hand in the small of your back. At the end of that chapter, when Inman skips out of the hospital and heads for home in the mountains near Asheville, you're as ready to roam as he is.

Frazier based his novel on family stories told about W. P. Inman, the author's great-great-grandfather, who deserted in the midst of the Civil War and walked home. Around that armature he wraps a narrative that is equal parts adventure yarn, war novel and love story. Those elements have been the ingredients of many a potboiler, but no hack ever dreamed up a protagonist like Inman. The horrors of war have hollowed him out, leaving him to ponder how "a man's spirit could be torn apart and cease...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Claire Messud (review date 6 July 1997)

SOURCE: "Tried in the Fire," in The Washington Post Book World, July 6, 1997, p. 6.

[In the following review, Messud praises the lyricism and language of Frazier's Cold Mountain, but complains that the ending "relies unabashedly on the conventions of romance."]

Contemporary fiction continues to tackle the Civil War because its ramifications are ubiquitous still: That brutal conflict marks the watershed of American modernity, as the First World War marks Europe's. Significantly, Charles Frazier's rich first novel addresses that watershed not only in its themes but in its very structure.

Cold Mountain comprises the interwoven narratives of a Confederate soldier named Inman and his intended, a young woman named Ada Monroe. Wounded at Petersburg and transferred to a Tennessee hospital in the summer of 1864, Inman deserts and heads for his home in the mountains of North Carolina. His journey is fraught with adventures and pitfalls, with curious characters who unburden their stories to him, and with villains whose aim is to recapture and make him fight again.

Meanwhile, Ada, the well-born daughter of a Charleston minister whose mission took him to Cold Mountain, struggles to reconstruct her life after her father's death, opting to remain at her remote farm in the lee of the mountain rather than return to the city dependent upon her father's friends. Joined by a tough local girl named Ruby, Ada comes to value nature and its gifts, the fruits of hard labor and the intensity of the seasons. As the lovers' reunion approaches, both are aware of their internal (and external) transformations, irrevocable changes that reflect those of the country in which they live.

Their stories, in spite of the overlapping menace of the war, are very different. Inman's is emphatically picaresque, a progression of grotesque and fantastic encounters reminiscent of Fielding or Richardson. He saves a woman from a murderous...

(The entire section is 826 words.)

James Polk (review date 13 July 1997)

SOURCE: "American Odyssey," in The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1997, p. 14.

[In the following review, Polk considers numerous secondary elements of Cold Mountain, but notes that "however strongly the side issues resonate, they are never allowed to interfere with the main thrust of the plot. The author's focus is always on Ada and Inman."]

For a first novelist, in fact for any novelist, Charles Frazier has taken on a daunting task—and has done extraordinarily well by it. In prose filled with grace notes and trenchant asides, he has reset much of the Odyssey in 19th-century America, near the end of the Civil War.

Although too...

(The entire section is 714 words.)

Christina Patterson (review date 20 July 1997)

SOURCE: "Hope Is Where the Hearth Is," in The Observer, July 20, 1997, p. 17.

[In the following excerpt, Patterson asserts that Cold Mountain "presents the terrible, discordant reality of life in a war."]

God, sex, pigs, mountains and cheese feature heavily in [Cold Mountain], offering enough sexual titillation and metaphysical speculation for the most guilt-ridden survivor of a Catholic childhood. The God of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, set in the American Civil War, is the squeaky-clean Protestant model of the pioneers. However, as the story unfolds, with its bewildering array of lives wrecked by the random ravages of war, perceptions of God,...

(The entire section is 493 words.)