A smaller glass, filled to the top
Why does Cold Mountain’s Charles Frazier’s new book make me think about the joys of dining at a popular restaurant in Carrboro near Chapel Hill?
Read on, and when I explain, you will understand why I think the new book, “Nightwoods,” is going to give Frazier a host of new readers, ones who never read “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons.”
What does his new book have for these readers that is other books lacked? That is the wrong question.
The attraction of “Nightwoods,” compared to his earlier books, will be that it “lacks” the number of pages and words that filled “Cold Mountain” and “Thirteen Moons.”
“Nightwoods” is Frazier’s gift to readers who like their novels to be compact with a story line that moves along briskly.
Frazier’s devoted fans need not worry. He has not abandoned them or given up his skill in delivering lovely, engaging, descriptive prose or his development of richly complex characters, the qualities that made reading his first two novels so rewarding.
He continues to bring wonderful literary food to our tables, just in a smaller portion.
Now, about the restaurant. Its name is Glasshalfull. It features carefully prepared delicious food, elegantly served, in very small, half-sized, portions. Sometimes eating light is much more satisfying than the overwhelming portions we get in other good restaurants.
Frazier’s “Nightwoods” is his literary glass half full, a smaller portion than his full size, but equally delicious. Maybe it is not exactly a glass half full,” but rather a smaller glass, filled to the top.
Another feature of “Nightwoods” that may attract new readers is its setting in the early 1960s, a time that is not historical, as in the Civil War or Cherokee Removal times of the earlier books. In the new book there are plentiful reminders of our own memories– cars, telephones, cheerleaders, movies, beauty queen contests, clear channel Nashville radio, and James Brown.
Yes, James Brown! His music gives comfort to the lovely, wounded, reclusive Luce, the book’s central character, who has lived all alone as the caretaker of a deserted mountain resort hotel.
Listen to Frazier describe her situation: “At bedtime, lamps out, the rest of the big room faded into darkness, only the fire and the radio’s tubes sending a friendly glow up the nearby log walls. Luce finally fell asleep every night listening to WLAC out of Nashville. Little Willie John, Howlin’ Wolf, Maurice Williams, James Brown. Magic singers proclaiming hope and despair into the dark. Prayers pitched into the air from Nashville and caught by the radio way up here at the mountain lake to keep her company.”
What is it about music and James Brown that haunts our favorite 60-year-old North Carolina authors? In Clyde Edgerton’s new book, “The Night Train,” also set in the 1960s, a 17-year-old white boy in a strictly segregated small North Carolina town loves the music so much that he tries to “become James Brown.”
Both Frazier and Edgerton proudly confess their own love of 1960s music.
Back to “Nightwoods” and Luce. The 1960s Luce reminded me of the 1860s Ada and Ruby from “Cold Mountain.” Luce is beautiful, kind, and lost like the Charleston-raised Ada. And Luce is, like Ruby, mountain-tough, resourceful, and stubborn.
Other compelling characters are essential to Frazier’s story and the detours and sub-plots that he has carefully constructed. But the basic plot is the ancient one, good vs. evil.
The good is represented by Luce and the two little children of her murdered sister. Evil is Bud, the husband of that sister and her murderer. In “Nightwoods” Bud’s threatening presence puts danger to Luce and the children on every page, making the reader wonder whether or not Frazier will, this time, let good prevail.
Or even if he will let you know for sure.
A gala wedding party was thrown at Litchfield Plantation in South Carolina last weekend, and among other things it was a great example of why people who live in both Carolinas argue and joke over which is the REAL Carolina. Each state has so much to offer, no wonder so many people claim them both.
Because the bride is the daughter of former UNC basketball player and assistant coach Eddie Fogler, the Carolina mix was evident from the moment everyone arrived. Besides almost 200 friends from both states, many were people who live in North Carolina and summer in South Carolina.
Here are some of the uncanny connections.
Emma Lee Fogler was conceived in Chapel Hill, grew up in Wichita and Nashville (where her Dad coached) but for the last 18 years lived in Columbia, where Fogler finished his coaching career with eight years at South Carolina. Emma’s new husband is Boyd Jefferson (B.J.) Phillips, her high school sweetheart who went on to play football at NORTH Carolina.
Phillips, in fact, is the subject of a great UNC football trivia question. He played games in consecutive seasons in Kenan Stadium for DIFFERENT teams. After graduating from UNC in three years, Phillips got his Masters at The Citadel, where he played his last season of eligibility and returned to face the Tar Heels in 2009. (FYI, quarterback Mike Paulus is the other player with such a distinction, transferring to William & Mary after the 2009 season and nearly leading the Tribe to an upset over Carolina in 2010.)
The crowd in the bar at the elegant Carriage Club gathered around the TVs, watching the end of the NORTH Carolina game in the NCAA Baseball Tournament and the start of the SOUTH Carolina game. Both teams advanced and are in opposite brackets of the College World Series that starts Saturday.
“Carolina won today,” said so many people. “Which Carolina?” was a popular retort.
The Tar Heels’ first game in Omaha is against Vanderbilt, where Fogler’s son, Ben, is going on a golf scholarship this fall after growing up a Tar Heel fan. Ben, one of the top-ranked juniors in the Carolinas and a straight-A student, wanted to go away to school and chose Vandy because, frankly, it did a better job recruiting him than recently retired UNC golf coach John Inman.
Robin Fogler, a UNC graduate, and her daughter planned most of the wedding, from the short-but-sweet ceremony in a small church with family ties in nearby Murrells Inlet, to the fabulous flowers and incredible food. But when they needed to hire a great band, Eddie turned to his old fraternity brother in Charlotte, Larry Farber, at East Coast Entertainment. Farber delivered with the six-piece Rhythm Nation, which kept the dance floor under the massive tent rocking all night.
Out there shagging was Roy Williams, the UNC Basketball coach in a stunning Carolina Blue sport jacket, and his wife Wanda. The Williams’ drove up from their beach home at Wild Dunes; Roy would not miss the wedding of his former cohort’s daughter as much as he would not miss attending the CWS to support Mike Fox. In between, Williams played in the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. In the midst of it all, Williams is conducting the Carolina Basketball School (camp) and paying attention to his potentially top-ranked 2012 team that is spending the summer in Chapel Hill.
Williams’ love for his alma mater runs so deep that he often tries to be in three places at the same time. He was approached, but not bothered, by numerous wedding guests who live in the Carolinas and have some ties to Chapel Hill and the Tar Heels. Gracious as ever, Williams shook dozens of hands and posed for repeated pictures. He and Wanda paid special attention to former UNC coach Bill Guthridge and his wife, Leesie, who also attended and are both healing up after recent medical procedures. That’s what true Carolina coaches do, look after each other like members of the same family they represent.
After 30 years in coaching, during which he won SEC championships and national Coach of the Year honors at Vanderbilt and South Carolina, Eddie Fogler retired from the sideline 10 years ago. He remained living outside of Columbia and raised a beautiful family, while staying connected to the game through TV color commentary, tournament administration and, most recently, helping colleges find new basketball coaches. His latest assignment was at Penn State, which hired Patrick Chambers but not before granting 70-year-old Larry Brown an interview.
Brown is currently out of coaching and living in Philadelphia after leaving the Charlotte Bobcats last season. The former UNC player and Hall of Famer was Fogler’s freshman coach in 1967, and they remain friends. Fogler’s old freshman teammates were also at the wedding, Jim Delany, Commissioner of the Big Ten, and Rich Gersten, a second-generation Tar Heel whose 90-year-old father Bobby was captain of the 1942 UNC team and played in the 100-year anniversary alumni game in February of 2010.
Fogler and I have been friends since we were fraternity brothers at UNC and, in 1979, opened Four Corners sports bar on Franklin Street. Fogler was Dean Smith’s chief recruiter at the time but got his boss’ blessing to be a silent partner because Smith wanted Fogler to make more money than he was earning from the state in those days. So Fogler kept coaching and usually stopped in after practice.
On one of those days, he met the stunning young hostess we had just hired. They began dating and the rest, as they say, is Carolinas history.
What’s your favorite crossover Carolinas story?