I’ve wanted to read Cold Mountain for a while, but I waited until I was finished with my Ella Wood trilogy so it wouldn’t be influenced by other works of Civil War fiction. Since I’m no longer concentrating solely on middle grade or young adult literature, I thought I’d throw it out here. It is the most evocative story I’ve read this year. Stunning in prose and melancholic in nature. I can’t stop thinking about it.
This is the story of a Confederate deserter. It’s 1864. Our main character, Inman, has been injured in the trenches at Petersburg and barely cheated death. Now that he’s on the mend, he’s decided he’s had enough of war. He’s headed back to his home on Cold Mountain, avoiding the Home Guard, to the woman he hopes will marry him. In alternating chapters, we watch his beloved suffer her father’s death and change, of necessity, from a pampered Charleston belle into a self-sufficient mountain woman over the course of the war. It is their alternating story of survival and the long, long journey home. The tale is gut-wrenching at times. Other times it’s lighthearted. Mostly it’s just plain visceral.
I have to admit it took me some time to get into this one. It’s extremely literary in style. I’m telling you, the artistry is phenomenal. The most vivid I’ve ever read, with word images that just get stuck in your head. Some of them are that perfect. The plot, however, is slow. There is a great deal of internal struggle. Inman is a broken man, and his chapters are quite pessimistic in perspective. War has obliterated his faith and hope; now he’s banking on love. Interspersed with his travels are stories of others that he encounters. They all interplay with his, but the plot is as winding and long in coming as the mountain he’s returning to.
This book is meaty. It’s brutal. It shows the best and worst life has to offer—mostly the worst. It shows the best and worst of the human spirit, mostly the worst. It shows the total deprivation of war and mankind. And it draws all sorts of spiritual conclusions I don’t agree with. It’s bleak. It’s raw. It’s not at all my forte. And yet, I got totally caught up in this book. The character of Inman tugged relentlessly at my emotions so that I couldn’t put it down until I saw him home. He’s been haunting me ever since.
This is not a kids’ book, and I don’t know any high schoolers who would stick out so much wordiness without a good deal of action to go with it. But I am highly recommending this one to adults who want an absolutely gorgeous literary experience with a deep, poignant look into the frailty and spirit of mankind.