A National Book Award Winner for Fiction, Charles Frazier's debut novel, set in the Civil War-era rural South, considers both grand and intimate life themes as a wounded soldier makes his way home to the highlands of North Carolina and to his prewar sweetheart.
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 ... The author's Ithaca lies deep within the Carolina mountains and is the elusive goal of his Odysseus, a wounded Confederate veteran named Inman...he resolves to reclaim himself and his humanity by fleeing the hospital where he is recovering, returning to his home and to Ada, his Penelope...both of Frazier's characters are between their pasts and their futures, escaping the former and traveling toward the latter ... A wealth of finely realized supporting characters gives Frazier's novel a subtext of richness and subtlety.
The book is so professionally archaeological, so competently dug, that one can mistake its surfaces for depth. But it's like a cemetery with no bodies in it ... Cold Mountain is utterly convincing in an unreal way ... Inman is silent, good, and strong — one must imagine a Confederate Clint Eastwood ... He is a Homeric foot soldier — Frazier has said he had Odysseus in mind — and quite unreal. The novel's unreality flows from Inman's unreality ... Frazier is a good writer: calm, for the most part unsentimental, often rich. But the novel is a refined exercise ...Frazier sacrifices aesthetic life to historical life. The result is that while one continues to believe Cold Mountain on the surface, one stops believing it at any deeper level. There is a false consciousness to a late 20th-century writer's efforts to evoke a 19th-century man in a language that belongs to neither.
Cold Mountain, which takes its title from a peak in the Great Balsam Mountains of Northern Carolina, certainly carries its author's knowledge of a particular area. But natural description is there to follow the two main characters' eyes and minds ... The novel's chapters alternate between their stories, both of which require an attention to the natural world: Inman's attention because he must survive in the wilds; Ada's attention because she has committed herself to hewing a living out of a wilderness ... Natural description is also natural history. A native of the mountain country of the Southern Appalachians, Inman carries the names of plants and trees in his head, and the narrative names them without any concession to any reader's ignorance.