The first line of Frazier’s new novel pulls you in: “Luce’s new stranger children were small and beautiful and violent.” You just can’t quit after a line like that; you have to go on. Follow with “The children loved fire above all elements of creation,” and you have the beginnings of a tale of crime gone unpunished and greed that knows no bounds. This is a story of innocence guarded, defended, and ultimately triumphant.
Luce takes her murdered sister’s orphaned children into her home, and the reclusive life she’d been living is upended. She tries to teach them language and other skills they’ll need to negotiate the world, with little success. All she can really do is give them time to heal. Luce will care for these children no matter how many chickens they kill or how many fires they set. She will love them and expect nothing in return.
Then the man Luce believes is responsible for her sister’s death comes to town. He sets up shop in a tavern that fronts a bootlegging operation, and he begins the hunt for his stolen money. The climactic battle between Luce and this man is an epic one, moving up into the hills to a mysterious black hole.
Read this book for the pure pleasure of going into the mountains with this great writer. Let him show you the chestnut saplings that “refuse to accept the terms of their extinction.” See the two kids who “fit perfectly into the sway of the old mare’s back.” Savor Luce’s reluctant description of the twins: “a pair of copperheads amid a field of sweet brown mice.”
Read this book and try to decide who will play the role of Luce: it will be a delicious part for any actress.