Charles Frazier's first novel, Cold Mountain, met with substantial critical and popular acclaim immediately upon its publication in 1997. Inspired by family stories about W. P. Inman, Frazier's great-great-uncle, Cold Mountain combines fact and fiction to tell a tale of love and hope against the backdrop of the American Civil War, which took place between 1861 and 1865. Frazier's Inman is a wounded Confederate soldier who deserts from the army and walks across North Carolina to Cold Mountain, his childhood home, where he hopes to find his beloved Ada Monroe, a minister's daughter, waiting for him. Along the way, Inman endures many harsh experiences while trying to avoid the Home Guard, local troops charged with capturing and returning deserters—also known as "outliers"—using whatever ...view middle of the document...
Frazier depicts the war's grim consequences on people who are far removed from the great issues that led to the Civil War, giving his readers some idea of the devastation visited upon the average people who bore most of the burdens of the conflict. In doing so, Frazier illustrates the theme that the horrors of warfare can be survived if people are motivated by the healing powers of love, optimism, and faith.
One element of Cold Mountain that makes the book unique is the way the author focuses on relatively unknown aspects of the Civil War. While many novels have dealt with major battles, few have depicted the violence and terror experienced behind the lines. The Home Guard is supposed to be a supporting unit of the Confederate army, yet it essentially wages war on civilians, most of whom are at least nominally loyal to the Confederacy. Members of the Home Guard include some of the roughest characters in the region, and they use their membership in the organization as a pretext to rob their neighbors and settle personal grievances while simultaneously avoiding regular military service. At times Union soldiers are a threat to Inman on his journey home, but most of the fighting and killing is committed by and against Inman's fellow Southerners.
Although the novel achieves much of its effectiveness through its association with actual historical events, Cold Mountain is interesting for reasons other than its intriguing plotline. Frazier's unique style of writing proves another factor in the book's success. The author adopts the unusual style of omitting quotation marks around dialogue, and he frequently uses sentence fragments to convey information. Yet such grammatically incorrect techniques do not interfere with the story, and the author's ability to evoke intense emotions and events is strengthened by his vivid use of sensory imagery.