Nightwoods by Charles Frazier is a thoroughly enjoyable, lean, brisk and fabulous read. It's the story of a young woman, Luce, living happily in solitude until she inherits her sister's two young orphaned and obviously traumatized children. With no children of her own and a mother who abandoned her and her sister when they were young, Luce does not have much mothering knowledge to go on, so she decides 'she'd better try to be a teacher', which she does with tenderness and patience. The children, however, come into Luce's life with not only emotional baggage, but with their murderous step-father not far behind who is looking to eliminate the two small witnesses and take back what he feels is rightfully his. The tension and suspense towards the end had me reading the last hundred pages in one sitting.
Before the children, Luce was content with the reimbursements of the rich Appalachian landscape, choosing to live apart from the small community around her. But the coming of the children changes everything, cracking open her solitary life in difficult, hopeful, dangerous ways. (inside flap)
She dragged a daybed from the screened sleeping porch to form a triangle of cozy space with the hearth and the radio to make herself a bedroom. The bookshelves held a great many well-read old novels and a set of Britannicas, complete but for a couple of volumes in the middle of the alphabet. Also, nearby, a Stickley library stand with an unabridged 1913 Webster's. The places where you naturally put your hands on the soft binding were stained dark, so that all you could figure was that decades of guests finished a greasy breakfast of sausage biscuits and then right away needed to look up a word. pg6
After that, when she had been alone for too many days, she walked the half mile to Stubblefield's house, and the half mile farther to Maddie's, and the mile farther to the little country store, where you could buy anything you wanted as long as it was bologna and light bread and milk, and yellow cheese and potted meat, and every brand of soft drink and candy bar and packaged snack cake known to man. A four-mile round-trip just to sit in a chair outside the store for a half hour and drink a Cheerwine and eat a MoonPie and observe other human beings. She always carried a book, though, in case she needed to read a few pages to avoid unwanted conversation. pg7
Maybe these city kids had never seen live chickens before. Didn't realize the direct relationship between the living birds and a fried drumstick or two ecstatic bites of deviled egg, rich with mayonnaise and pickle relish and paprika, which they hoovered up like they'd never had it before, which maybe they hadn't. pg25
And sure enough, as night settled in and the marksmen quit shooting their guns and drank more beer and ran their mouths, they taught Bud something welcome. They bitched about how difficult and expensive it was to get beer and bonded liquor, this being a dry county with nothing but vast national forest and several layers of other dry counties at every quarter of the compass. You either had to drive hours to reach the outer world or else pay the one bootlegger a horrendous markup. It took Bud about three seconds to recognize a ripe situation. pg63
That night at bedtime, Luce said, Tell me something. What kind of weather suits you two best?
They stared at her as if she were a fool, and then they looked at each other. Neither of them said a word.
Luce said, I know you can talk. I heard it.
Nothing but blank faces from the kids.
-I'm the one that puts food on the table, Luce said. That's not any kind of threat, simply a fact. It's one of the things I do for you. I'm asking a question about weather. Do me a favor and answer, just because it would make me happy.
Wheels turned behind dark eyes. Dolores finally said, very weary and put upon, as if to answer the obvious: Lightning. pg117
Pathfinding would be more difficult if they had ideas of their own about where they are and where they want to go. Being lost means nothing. Especially when being found seems like a thing to avoid. Where they are is fine, so long as they move through it, onward to someplace else. pg237