I just finished Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and can I just say: I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THAT.
It’s my dangerously subtle affinity for Nicholas Sparks movies: my mind and body are no longer strong enough for well-written, tragic love stories. I’ve grown soft, accustomed to saccharine-infused sagas of the South while at the same time developing a super strong, cold wall around my heart because I am unable to discern what is realistic and what is hopelessly romantic.
I found my hardcover copy of Cold Mountain for $5 in the CLEARANCE section of Half Price books about eight months ago.
CLEARANCE IS CAPITALIZED FOR EMPHASIS BECAUSE THERE ARE SOME WONDERFUL TREASURES FOR WONDERFULLY CHEAP PRICES.
When I opened it, there was miniature envelope with a little arrow-pierced heart with two initials in it. It said something like “I love you, see you soon,” and it made me want to sing.
I’m a sucker for cute little notes for and from strangers. It’s another cheesy romantic thing I like, but ever expect to happen to me. I feel deliciously nosy finding notes or inscriptions in books, but also warmed by the love of the others. It’s a temporary thawing of my fairly cold heart.
Before I made this sweet purchase, I had stumbled across a blog post from my former newspaper advisor, who is also an AP English teacher. He wrote about how he removed the novel from his list because of complaints from parents concerning content. The post was short and primarily detailed some of his favorite end-of-the-year projects, but the last paragraph or two was tinged with this sad regret that he hadn’t shared the book with his class and taught them from it. I was drawn to his honesty, and his connection to the book made me want to read it even more.
So I read it. All I thought at first was darn you, Charles Frazier. You were supposed to be a better Sparks, not a freaking Hemingway, okay?
Side note: for my senior thesis, I almost selected the topic of love and war, and read A Farewell to Arms to get started. All I gotta say, Ernest Hemingway was straight playing because I didn’t go through a war narrative only to have Catherine die of freaking childbirth.
Anyways, Cold Mountain started off a little slow. I cheated and watched the movie trailer featuring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger to pump me up and pushed through the book, devouring 75-100 pages of meandering prose at a time.
The narrative is really quite captivating. Inman is such a MAN. Walking hundreds of miles with a nasty hole in his neck, developing this incredibly complex perspective of the war and the state of humanity, eating roots, growing wicked facial hair, refusing to acknowledge that he has a first name, and avoiding the Home Guard that looks to imprison deserters, all inspired by his love for Ada, a girl he barely even knows that lives in his beloved town of Cold Mountain.
By barely knows, I mean barely knows. In the book, he stares at her neck, thinks her detachment from the men of Cold Mountain is attractive, and they exchange a single kiss THE DAY he leaves for war, expecting to be reunited in a few weeks, perhaps a month at the most.
(LOLOLOLOLOL THE CIVIL WAR WRECKED PEOPLE. SORRY, BUT IT’S TRUE)
They didn’t really know each other at all, but when Ada’s father dies, it becomes apparent that all they have is each other, or maybe even the idea of each other.
Oh, and also, Inman reads! He can’t even find adequater food or shelter most of the time, but reads about nature constantly. Such a MAN.
I’m obviously greatly oversimplifying the plot. The narrative is split between Ada and Inman, and usually I tend to dislike books that switch perspectives, but Frazier expertly brings in these seemingly mundane and minute details that actually kept me as a reader wholly captivated by everything, even as my time with the two stories was split.
The side characters are fully fleshed as well. Ruby is one of my favorite novel characters ever. When she comes to help Ada at her struggling farm called Black Cove, she brings incredible, unrivaled vitality to not only a cold and dry Ada, but also to the literal cold and dry surroundings around her. She is practical and plain, but never described as simple-minded. I respect Frazier so much for his obvious respect for her character, as well as all the characters that he writes in the novel.
Inman’s journey has wonderful character cameos as well, my favorites including the terrible, terrible pastor named Veasey who is laughable in his lack of morality, the disturbing Junior and his insane, apparently incestuous, cannibalistic family (I know, I was like whaaaat is happening here), the chillingly pale manchild Birch of the Home Guard, and the goat-woman and her rolling house of herbs and huge heart.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been so invested in a novel, and it was an all-consuming, wonderful escape.
The ending was all too reminiscent of A Farewell to Arms (that’s all I’ll say), and all I could do to handle it at first was desperately tried to channel my utter despair into pure anger that freaking Stobrod survived. It was injustice!
There isn’t one way to describe and encompass all that I was feeling. Frazier expertly wove all these elements together for a purpose that wasn’t a singular reader response.
There were enchanting, rolling descriptions that reminded me of the dazzle of The Great Gatsby, the matter-of-fact detailing of the battles akin to the prose of Gods and Generals or The Killer Angels, and graphic vignette-like scenes that stuck with me like those of Invisible Man, all wrapped up in weighty symbolism that still wasn’t heavy-handed and sweeping yet personal generalities of the human condition and of love.
Read it. Take your own altar and put it in the place of Cold Mountain’s final landscape. Where do you return? Is it to someone or to yourself?
Frazier pulls all of our Cold Mountains out and spreads them before us. He tells a story of a love affair with the great perhaps, the fatal thrill of quitting, and the hope of returning.
Cold Mountain is most importantly unique in its emphasis on ends. All too often we skim over ending in the rush to begin again. Beginnings are clean and fresh and they sparkle, but endings are ugly and dirty and diseased with lack of desire. Frazier doesn’t shy away from this generalization. He doesn’t just push the dirt away. I think, through these 300-odd pages, that I learned to see through some of the dirt and appreciate the process of the cleaning.