Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is the story of a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, Inman, who decides to walk home to the Blue Ridge Mountains after participating in the fighting at St. Petersburg. Although not historical fiction as the genre is defined, COHS teachers may accept it when asking you to read historical fiction. It’s a nice novel with which to start the junior project, and it has lots of bonuses including adventure and romance.
The novel opens with Inman in the hospital, a deep wound on the back of his neck, one that his comrades in arms assumed would kill him. Somehow he survives, and the amazing repetition of this survival against all odds makes up a good deal of the story. However, Inman is bitter and disillusioned. He escapes the hospital and decides to walk home and see if Ada, a woman he left behind, will have him for a husband. He thinks often about the changes in himself and whether he is any longer fit to be a husband.
Having gone AWOL, Inman is an “outlier” and thus on the run; although he meets may people who aid him as he heads home, he must be wary of them all. This sense of everyone being the enemy is the pervasive element of Inman’s existence and provides much of the tension in the novel. He lives through surreal situations, betrayals by both men and women, more brushes with death, and even being buried alive. Inman’s chance meeting with the ‘goatwoman’ saves him as she has spent twenty years alone in the woods and knows herbal remedies for his wounds. He thinks about her solitary existence and realizes that though it’s tempting to live away from civilization, he wouldn’t be able to do it.
There are some gruesome scenes in the novel, particularly when Inman has promised to help a young woman whose pig—and only source of food—has been stolen by Federal soldiers. He is able to hunt the men down with his backwoods knowledge (he even uses turkey calls from a tree). When Inman returns the pig and helps Sally—an eighteen-year-old widow with an infant—slaughter it, his actions in killing the Federal soldiers seem justified. (The idea of righteousness and morality would be a good starting point for a paper on the book.)
While Inman is making his way home, alternating chapters cover the life of Ada. She is well-educated, but has no practical knowledge about running a farm. When her father dies, she is helped by Ruby, the child of a ne’er-do-well father who has raised herself and is utterly competent as well as self-reliant. Their story, along with that of the ne’er-do-well father, Stobrod, is just as compelling as Inman’s. Overall, Cold Mountain is a gripping novel—a great choice for outside reading.