Frazier's narrative, dialogue, and description is as spare, dry, and beautiful as the North Carolina terrain it covers. Cold Mountain native Inman is wounded in bitter fighting late in the American Civil War, and after months recuperating he walks out of the hospital away from his obligation and toward his beloved memories of home. There, Ada Monroe was the woman he left behind, though he had not expressed his love to her before leaving, and the war had left its own deep scars on her life.
The novel is the unadorned tale of how each survives, Inman on his pilgrimage across a torn and tortured landscape populated by strange and violent men and women, Ada on her journey toward subsistence and awareness of her surroundings under the guidance of semi-orphaned mountain child Ruby. While Inman's journey seems at first the more central and more eventful, the reader comes to realize that both journeys are necessary, powerful and emotionally and physically wrenching.
And all the while Frazier's spare storytelling keeps any hint of pretense and preshadowing of the future off the page. This is indeed a Great American Novel written in lowercase. Even the eventual reunion is handled without fireworks or romanticized soft-focus. These are clear-eyed heroes of a real, hard world.
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Much has been made of the story's homage to The Odyssey, the origins of which are found in an oral tradition. One can't help but hear echoes of Homer when listening to Frazier's soft, deliberate voice give life to his lyrical writing and to his understated, yet convincing rendering of the overwhelming events of war. Both Frazier's prose and reading are leisurely, recalling a slow foot pace. His delivery is uniquely suited to Innman's arduous, adventure-filled walk toward home and to the possibility of a reunion with Ada, the woman he loves. The author's reading does equal justice to Ada, who is being transformed by her struggle for survival on her father's farm. There is precious little dialogue, and Frazier makes no effort at acting out the characters.
One small irritation in the production is a beeping noise at the end of each side. Another minor complaint is that the tapes don't have individual boxes, which was perhaps an attempt to make the overall package appear more booklike. The recording does, however, make deft use of two brief musical interludes. In a subtle twist, the fiddle music that opens the first cassette, when repeated as an ...