Cold Mountain is more than a second-time-around book for me. It’s more like a 10th-or-11th-time-around one. Yeah, some people think the book is boring. One person even told me that “nothing happens” in it.
I wondered if he’d actually read it.
Because lots happens in it. Like Odysseus, Inman is trying to get home from war. In Inman’s case, it’s home from the Civil War – as a deserter. He has no pretensions of being a hero. He wonders if he is even human after seeing all he’s seen, doing what he’s done. And getting home is indeed an odyssey, a series of life-threatening situations with a few little oases of rest and peace. The oases are my favorite parts. Inman’s time of enough food and deep rest with the goat woman, the evening of providing comfort to the young mother, and finally, his view of the blue ridges stretching into infinity as he nears home.
Inman is traveling to see Ada, who has her own hero’s journey after her father’s death. Unprepared for a useful life, Ada needs Ruby’s wise ways to run a farm with no male help. Ada is educated in art, music, literature but has no idea how to grow a crop or kill a chicken. Ruby is uneducated in the arts but a scholar in subsistence. The two teach each other. Ada learns the most, how to listen to and read nature, to appreciate it as more than a still-life study. And she ultimately embraces the mountains that Inman so loves, the mountains he is coming home to as much as he is coming home to her.
The stories of Inman and Ada alternate chapters until the characters come together in both person and narration. I never tire of this novel because Charles Frazier writes poetic sentences of vivid description and realistic dialogue. His observations are plumb and level. Rereading Cold Mountain is a homecoming for me because I’ve read it so many times. Like my childhood house, I can go into any room of it and know exactly where I am. I can pick up a chapter like a favorite ceramic piece on my childhood bedroom dresser and turn it over, feel its smoothness, remember its past in my life. Each chapter resonates because I see Inman, Ada, Ruby in myself. They help me think more deeply, look more carefully, live more simply.
I never tire of them. Each August, I feel the urge to pull out Cold Mountain once again and start my journey home with Inman.
I can’t say that about any other book. That’s why I’ve chosen to respond to this Second Time Around prompt. To tell you that Cold Mountain is the one book I can read again and again. And have.