June 1997

Blood and romance

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Charles Frazier uses reverse psychology to great advantage in his debut novel, Cold Mountain, a Civil War saga with blood on its bayonets and romance in its gentle soul. The author takes some creative risks by reshaping the true battle tales of his great-great-grandfather into an epic story that accumulates power and purpose with each turn of the page.

Our hero, Inman, much like the sensitive lead character in Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, is sickened by the wanton waste of young lives on the battlefield and torn between the traditional conflict of valor and cowardice. In the field hospital, the injured Confederate private witnesses the brutality of both sides in the most bloody of American armed struggles, the War Between the States. 

Emotionally shaken, Inman realizes that he will be returned to the front and possible death as soon as he is well. He watches men on both sides ordered to charge into lethal barrages of gunfire and cannon shot, only to fall after a few precious steps. The author makes some disturbing cultural and social commentary as Inman considers the war philosophy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who felt armed conflict was "an instrument for clarifying God's obscure will," a view not shared by the youthful soldier who dons new clothes and decides to reclaim his old life regardless of the consequences.

So the eventful journey back to his sweetheart, Ada, begins. Frazier takes us into the life and mind of Ada, a young girl stunned by the sudden death of her consumptive father. Despite the man's standing in the community as a preacher, no one comes forward to help her until another fatherless young woman, Ruby, appears. Together they team up to put Ada's farm back into operation, trading and bartering for the goods and services they need. It is the emotional bond betwee these two sturdy souls and their startling evolution as characters which lift this novel above and beyond the usual offerings in historical fiction.

Lyrical and magnificent in its narrative power, this is one of the most promising literary debuts in some time. And we are truly glad that Charles Frazier remembered all those marvelous Civil War yarns his great-great-grandaddy passed along.

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