I think Frazier sort of intended to write a genre book but someone must have said, "Naw Chuck. You can't write a genre book after doing literary stuff. Just write your version and add a bunch of pretty lines about leaves and trees so we can sell it as a literary work."
Frazier said he tried to take expectations about the genres he was playing with and write the opposites. But I don't know how successful he was. In truth, the plot is predictable leading to a show down between our bad guy Bud and the twin children. I wish there wasn't this stigma against genre writing. Genre books can be fantastically written and offer rich language too. If I was comparing this book amongst other genre books, I'd be thrilled with it. But I pit it against other literary books, and this one doesn't seem to have enough depth to really seem very lasting (as a part in critical analysis or in my own memory).
Devices used in the writing that I assume were meant to make the story more literary come across as clunky, confusing, and hopelessly trying too hard. The three biggest offenders were the dashes to convey dialogue (which I loved in Thirteen Moons but just doesn't fit in with this story), no clear clues about the passage of time, and sudden change in tense in the middle of the chapter to build suspense.
Sadly, I can't think of much praise for the book. Frazier does have an amazing ability to describe a lonesome world in the mountains. Nostalgia is such a pervasive emotion that he plays with, a longing for the romanticized or imagined past. It's powerful, but it didn't work well with this plot. The most developed of his characters are the children, which had to have been a burdensome challenge as they are mute through most of the book and communicate like most twins (through another channel outside of speech). Whatever research he did though for damaged children was written in with believability and hope. They had some shining moments which were then outstripped by boring, selfish, or stupid adults too ignorant to address their own need for healing.
But with my opinion of Nightwoods told, I would say that I will continue to read Charles Frazier. I hope he writes some young adult stories. I hope he contributes more fiction to be translated into Cherokee. After reading Thirteen Moons, I was so sad to hear that a portion of that novel is the first English literature to be translated into Cherokee, and that the language is dying. But I was so elated that Frazier helped financially support Yonaguska Literature Initiative from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press to encourage literacy in Cherokee. This was from The Independent around the time of Thirteen Moons' publication:
The first project in their translation experiment will be the "Removal" section of this novel [Thirteen Moons], which chronicles the ejection of Cherokee - some only one-eighth Indian - from their land. Frazier is looking at it just as a beginning, to "learn what the problems are for publishing in Cherokee are". Ultimately, he hopes to move on to books for younger readers so that children who come out of a Cherokee day-care programme will have something to read in their own language.Frazier writes slowly, so I know not to anticipate anything soon, but I hope he returns to historical fiction or putting far more effort into the Yonaguska Literature Initiative.