Thursday, November 04, 2010

Cup of cheer for Charles Frazier

Happy 60th birthday to Asheville, N.C. author Charles Frazier, whose breakout book, "Cold Mountain," caused me to happily lose a lot of sleep shortly after its release in 1997.

Frazier's style doesn't exactly lend itself to propping up your feet by the fire. I read "Cold Mountain" over spring break 1998 and had to work at it, keeping a dictionary nearby. It was a little like sifting through dense fog. But with that, too, comes the exhilarating feeling when all becomes clear.

I have made a couple of false starts at his 2006 novel "Thirteen Moons." Reviews were mixed. My friend Bridget Trogden, whose opinion on all things literary I respect, liked it. It sits on my shelf, waiting its turn.

What I remember most about "Cold Mountain," other than its language, is the power of the narrative, sweeping you along in its undertow, alternating from hero Inman's journey from a Civil War infirmary back to Cold Mountain and his beloved Ada, and her struggle to work the family farm and stay alive after her pastor father passes away.

It's leaps and bounds better than the 2003 film adaptation, which is fine in its fashion. I also remember feeling popped like a balloon when Inman meets his fate.

According to Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" entry today, Frazier based the novel on a family story about an ancestor actually named Inman, who did indeed tire of the war and decide to walk home. Keillor says that Frazier's wife passed the manuscript along to a friend, author Kaye Gibbons, who for once actually told a writer to quit his day job (teaching college).

Frazier now raises horses on a farm near Raleigh, N.C. According to Wikipedia, he says his next novel, unlike the previous two, will be set in the 20th century.

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