It's a long time now since I read Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier's acclaimed first novel, but I remember it as an intense, immersive read, persuading the reader to slow to the pace of its narrators and truly take in the details of the mountains in which they find themselves. That same powerful writing is present in Nightwoods - but it's coupled with a rather cliched plot-line that, in my opinion, weakens this otherwise excellent novel. Luce, a young woman living by herself in an isolated lakeside lodge, finds that she has to take on her sister Lily's children after Lily is murdered by her husband. In a second thread, Bud, the murderer, newly paroled, seeks out the children, as he believes they have the money that Lily took from him shortly before he killed her. Luce's attempts to build a relationship with the children are related alongside Bud's journey to the town where they live and his forging of relationships with the locals through his self-appointed post as bootlegger, including local sheriff Lit, Luce's father.
Unfortunately, I found my interest waning somewhat in the second half of the novel, although it was still a good read. Bud's search for the money became the focus of the narrative, and this plot felt over-familiar to me - a re-hash of The Night of the Hunter or any number of other stories involving orphaned children and greedy villains. Given the importance of this plot thread, however, it seemed to be resolved rather too easily. Frazier's writing is still fantastic - a scene involving Bud and a group of ageing hunters high in the mountains is particularly well-evoked - and so to an extent, the weak plot is carried, but I found myself questioning why we needed it. For me, the parallel lives of Luce, Bud and a couple of other characters were enough to hold my interest - there seemed no need to attempt a thriller-type climax to what is, like Cold Mountain, an intense novel precisely because the reader needs to adapt to its particular pace.