The American ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote that to possess an awareness of the environment is to understand that we live in a world of wounds, but it is just as true that a novelist as astute and compassionate as Charles Frazier knows this same truth, not just up at the surface, in the natural processes of rot and rebirth, but within the vertical component of damage in the human psyche. At times the depth of this knowledge appears to be so profound as to pass through pain or judgment, and exists as pure observation, sharp and specific.
In Frazier’s previous works there is sometimes a fierce sense of justice, but in “Nightwoods’’ there is a newer, slighter distance, a fascinating unwillingness to judge. What might seem like a fairly basic suspense novel - a father abuses his children in unspoken horrible fashion, murders his wife, is acquitted; the children go to live with the dead woman’s sister, and then the killer stalks them all - is in fact a virtuoso construction, with layer upon layer of wounds, not one of which has completely healed. Indeed, as these characters move through the landscape of rural North Carolina, their intersections seem to tear loose scabs and scar tissue, which makes for interesting relationships.