by Charles Frazier
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997
I have long maintained that Charles Frazier’s first novel, Cold Mountain, is arguably the Great American Novel, and I’m not being facetious in saying this. Frazier spent seven years researching and writing Cold Mountain, immersed in the landscape and the history of which he tells. The novel is, quite simply, magnificent. With rich detail it takes the reader back in time to the Civil War era. Even Frazier’s language – as well as that of his characters – takes us back to that earlier time.
Cold Mountain‘s premise is simple: W.P. Inman, a wounded soldier, deserts the Confederate army and struggles to find his way home. Waiting for him there is Ada Monroe, a young Charleston woman whom Inman knew only briefly before going off to war. The structure of Cold Mountain has been compared to Homer’s The Odyssey. Inman’s encounters on his journey, as well as Ada’s struggles to endure on her deceased father’s farm in the North Carolina mountains, are fraught with compassion, kindness and cruelty, the beauty of the natural landscape, and the toll taken on the South by the futility of a nation at war against itself.
There are countless universal, timeless themes in the story and countless richly-developed characters the reader will never forget.
As with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Cold Mountain is Frazier’s singular masterpiece. I’ve read his more recent novels, Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods, but neither holds a candle to Cold Mountain. Nonetheless, because of Frazier’s achievement in his first novel, I will continue to read anything this man writes. Moreover, I’ve read Cold Mountain six times over the years and look forward to my next encounter with his masterpiece of fiction.