Cold Mountain has been a difficulty all summer long. I had been demanded suggested by a kind authority figure to read it, so, despite what’s perhaps my natural inclination to skip over it on the shelf, I did. I borrowed the book from the library two times, renewing twice for each borrow. After the second return I felt completely embarrassed to profess such a love for fiction while not making through one book in twelve weeks’ time (to be fair, a few comics were also taking up my time). Not long afterwards, I saw a copy in the library’s used book sale and picked it up for less than a dollar, figuring that payment and being so close to the end would compel me to complete it. It did.
Cold Mountain itself is a difficult book. It is a chore to read, said in the best possible way. Its heart is on its sleeve, and that can double as both admirable and excruciating. The pure mechanics of the story-telling are fantastic, mind you, and I find little fault with its plot or dialogue. The book simply weighs heavy. I remember reading the first chapter and putting it down for a couple of days. That wasn’t because I was unimpressed. I was, in fact, so impressed that I had to let the words sink in. Chapters are so long and so dense that I find trouble mentally yelling to myself, “Yes, more, immediately!” Half of the book gives you a Hell on Earth, and the other half examines a life of boredom and brutal farming work. The romance isn’t too romanticized. Passages will punch you in the gut and take the breath out of you, and you’ll put the book down to catch your breath with some other book’s tepid words.
Cold Mountain is verbose and clinically specific. Charles Frazier could teach Aaron Weiss a thing or two about namedropping regional flowers. Its plot does eventually tie together in a phenomenal way, but it often seems lost in favor of rambling about the environment. There’s a lot to learn about the Carolinas of the 1860s, it turns out. After enough rambles, I question if Frazier wants to write a personal journal or a topographical schoolbook, though he does neither poorly. I always seem to prefer the inner monologues, and those are what hurts your heart. That’s what caused me to spend an entire summer on one novel. It’s not bad, it’s really quite, quite good, but it’s also a gaping wound in your neck that needs to heal. The breath leaves you because the book needs breath of its own, to slowly, often achingly, build to its damn-near perfect conclusion.
I have the 2003 film adaptation right here (again, taken from the library) and I’m a bit worried to watch it. Cold Mountain wasn’t God-tier, but it was still very good, and now here’s this Hollywood adaptation. I hear it’s great. But I also look at this DVD box and see Jude Law and Nicole Kidman’s giant, commercialized, oddly “perfect” faces staring at me. The book is ruthless in content and execution, and I’d be mighty surprised if any of that will carry.