Cold Mountain (1997)
National Book Award Winners (1997)
The basic setup of this much praised surprise bestseller is reminiscent of Tim O'Brien's excellent Vietnam novel, Going After Cacciato, but in this case unleavened by humor. Inman is a wounded Confederate soldier who decides he's had enough of the war, so he walks home to Cold Mountain to be reunited with his theoretical love, Ada Monroe. His journey takes him through the war ravaged South, where he meets a variety of characters. Meanwhile, Ada's father has died and the servants have taken off, leaving this product of gentile Charleston society to tend a farm, a duty for which she is ill-equipped. But with the help of Ruby, a tough local girl, she adjusts and makes a go of it.
The story is told in language and a style which seems to consciously invoke both Faulkner (see Orrin's review) and Cormac McCarthy (see Orrin's review) and it tells the same type of Southern Gothic tale, that strange admixture of romance and violence. Some of the descriptions are quite beautiful and the narrative flow is sometimes captivating. But overall, this is a really hard book to enjoy. First, the general pace of the story is positively glacial and little happens of any real moment along the way. Second, the storytelling is so dour and fatalistic, so unrelieved by joy, that it's a relentlessly depressing reading experience. Third, the characters are pretty wooden; unless you are captivated by their desire for one another, there just isn't much reason to care what happens to them. Finally, the very premise of the book is so odd as to make us root against Inman and Ada.
I mean think about it, Frazier's basically anti-War message seems to imply that the Civil War was itself simply wrong:
Ada asked him if he had ever seen the great celebrated
warriors. The allegedly godlike Lee, grim
Inman had seen them all except Pelham, but he told
Ada he had nothing to say about them, neither
First of all, to call men like Lee and Longstreet--and by implication, Lincoln, Grant and Sherman--despots, really goes beyond the Pale. It is possible to take a pacifist position without besmirching the honor of some of the finest men this nation has ever produced. Second, is he suggesting that we would have been better off if the South had maintained slavery? Okay maybe he just means that only the South was wrong to fight to keep it. But the imagery he uses also suggests that Inman is fleeing from the mechanized, industrial future in general, merely epitomized by the Northern war machine:
During his first weeks in the hospital, he had been
hardly able to move his head, and all that kept
Some may find this retrograde yearning charming, but it has been the source of many of the South's problems. For roughly a hundred years the region remained trapped in amber, incapable of even acknowledging that the war was over, the blacks free and the industrial age a reality. Likewise, Ada and her developing relationship with the land convey an essentially pastoral message. The book is so profoundly nostalgic and backward looking that it inevitably seems to favor the Ante-Bellum South. It's not merely conservative, it's positively reactionary and aren't we all tired by now of these elegiac Southern novels?
The critics maintain that the action of the novel is the movement of Inman and Ada toward one another and away from loneliness, but heck they never really knew each other terribly well before the War, so they are both in love more with the idea of each other than with the reality. And Ada's increasing independence is supposed to be the other main development, but all she really does is learn to cook and farm. Folks have been doing that for thousands of years; it just doesn't seem like much progress to me. She's really not much different than Scarlett O'Hara in that regard. In fact, in it's own way, the book just isn't that different from Gone With the Wind--well, except that it takes itself much more seriously and it's much less fun.
[N.B.--One of my goals on this website is to try to identify and develop some of the general themes of Western Literature. One of the most distinctive plotlines I've discussed is that of the young male escaping from restrictive society and making a dash for freedom ("lighting out for the territories" in Huck Finn's words). We've seen it in everything from Huckleberry Finn to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Cool Hand Luke. Chuck asked if I thought Cold Mountain fit this pattern because Inman flees from the War. In fact, his action is virtually the opposite of the broader trend. He flees from the masculine conflict that will settle issues of freedom (the North fought to free the slaves, the South to be free of Northern dictates) and returns to maternal society, longing for an even further return to the restrictive ante-bellum South.]
-WIKIPEDIA: Charles Frazier
-REVIEW: of The Trackers by Charles Frazier (Micah Mattix, Washington Free Beacon)
Book-related and General Links:
-EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE
-EXCERPTS: from Cold Mountain (Salon)
-INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Farnsworth speaks with Charles Frazier, the National Book Award winning author for fiction, about his Civil War novel, Cold Mountain. (November 20, 1997, NEWSHOUR TRANSCRIPT, PBS)
-INTERVIEW : with Charles Frazier (Book Browse)
-PROFILE: Mountain man: About Charles Frazier and "Cold Mountain" (Laura Miller, Salon)
-CHAT: "Cold Mountain's" CHARLES FRAZIER TALKS WITH SALON READERS (Salon)
-Charles Frazier and the Books of Cold Mountain: An Exhibit Welcoming the Author Back to the University of South Carolina text by Patrick Scott hypertext by Jason A. Pierce (Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina)
-READING GROUP GUIDE: (Random House, Vintage Books)
-Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier Site (John Roth)
-Frank K's Cold Mountain Page
-Robbie Comer's Cold Mountain Page
-Cold Mountain: Online (Holly Snow)
-Cold Mountain: The Un-Official Site (Bill D'Aquila and I am a student at Carmel Junior High School)
-Charles Frazier: Book Summary, Reviews Author Biography (Book Browse)
-ARTICLE: Frazier reaches new heights ( Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY)
-ARTICLE: 'Cold Mountain' turns its namesake into big tourist draw (GARY HENDERSON, (Spartanburg, S.C.) HERALD-JOURNAL)
-BBC Book Club Choice
-READING PLAN: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: Not a review, but a suggested plan of action for those about to read the book
-BOOK CLUB: The Reading Room: 'Cold Mountain' By Charles Frazier (Greg Changnon, For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
-ESSAY: The Post Literary Dilemma (David Hoppe, New Art Examiner)
-REVIEW: COLD MOUNTAIN By Charles Frazier (James Polk, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: (Jonathan Miles, Salon)
-REVIEW: Civil War novel is an extraordinary debut (PETER WORTHINGTON, Toronto Sun)
-REVIEW: (Robert Fleming, Book Page)
-REVIEW: 'Cold Mountain' frozen in history (Laura M. Fiorilli / CHicago Weekly News)
-REVIEW: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (Teen Ink Review by Jill H., Windham, NH)
-REVIEW: (Kathie Nuckols, Book Browser)
-REVIEW: At Last Toward Home | Jane Tompkins | Brightleaf Sept.-Oct. 1997
-REVIEW: Cold Mountain a haunting tale of Civil War and the search for selfhood (kathryn glover, epeak)
-REVIEW: Books: 1860 or 1960? The similarities make Cold Mountain a bestselling novel (F. W. Baeu, World Magazine)
-REVIEW: (Denver Post Wire Services)
-REVIEW: Timeless love tale (Jurek Martin, Financial Mail)
-REVIEW: (Don Shackelford, Metro Active)
-REVIEW: Confederate soldier abandons conflict for love in spiritual `Cold Mountain' (CLAY REYNOLDS, Houston Chronicle)
This book is a rather mediocre, watered-down imitation of Faulkner to a slight extent (in the personification of Ruby), "Gone With The Wind" (in its Civil War era sweep but there's more of this in the movie) and particularly Cormac McCarthy. Frazier seems to worship McCarthy's "All The Pretty Horses"-era style of writing, right down to that pastoral lack of quotation marks used to encase dialogue. And it meanders horribly.
- Le Petomane
- Jan-11-2007, 09:47
It is a sad, sad day when General Sherman is considered one of the finest men our country has produced. And while this book was slow in some parts, it made complete sense and made interesting developments that you have glossed over in your desire to make it sound like the beginners attempt that you say it is.
- Jan-08-2006, 17:31
i think the review is full of crap. it was a very good book maybe a little too much of a love story but it had people gettin killed and one man's fight to make it home. it will make a very good movie which by the way came out today.
- Jun-29-2004, 22:19
From this review, it sounds like the author managed to fleece over a million readers with this one. Hard to believe that it won the National Book Award.
- Aug-14-2003, 00:47
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