Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cold Mountain (3 of 145)

One Sentence Summary: The intrepid Inman journeys across the unforgiving landscape of the Civil War South in hopes of reaching his beloved Ada, a young woman tending the land and changing with the times on the other side of Cold Mountain.

Subtitle: Come to Beautiful North Carolina!

“He tried to name which of the deadly seven might apply, and when he failed he decided to append an eighth, regret.” 
I have the travel bug big time. Right after high school, I ocean hopped to Spain and then wrangled a position with a company back in the States that ultimately sent me to India. I got back about six months ago (I can't believe it's been that long) and I've been busy, but oh my goodness, I am starting to get jumpy again. Itchy feet is a curse. Mix that with my recent fascination with the American South and reading this book was the final element in a volatile Kerouac-ian cocktail.

Beautiful descriptions make me weak in the knees. Dandelion Wine will forever be my favorite summer book because it is summer, written down and pressed between some pages. I bring up that Bradbury classic as an illustration of the fact that I am not afraid of slow-burn storyline, winding its way through corridors of description. John Muir's wilderness essays? Right up my alley. For fiction, Cold Mountain has some of the most beautiful descriptive language that I have read in a very long time. The juxtaposition of feeling and landscape, each a tool that enhanced the understanding of the other, was absolutely masterful. Throughout Inman's great American odyssey, you can feel the threat of approaching winter, the long slog of the unchanging road, the minute thrills of witnessing evolution in the landscape. Also, by Ada's side, your heart steps into a more primal space- you get to learn to appreciate Cold Mountain, and all mountains, for their quiet language alongside her. It spoke straight to an ongoing monologue in my heart, a yearning for simplicity- love and toil in a beautiful place as a recipe for a well-lived life. Ruby and Ada speak straight to the ongoing war between the urban intellectual and the rural sage that I get to experience in my own life, poised between the middle of nowhere north-country and the influence of Boston and New York. 

There was an enormous purity to the whole arc of the story that I was able to get lost in, because I seek it so constantly in the spaces between books where my own narrative unwinds. Inman's love of Ada. Ada and Ruby's friendship (my favorite element of the book). The landscape itself. Now that I write it, purity is the word for it- a book clear and cold as mountain air.

All of that being said, I sometimes lost the thread of the story. It disappeared under a few interrupting narratives that didn't seem to quite fit in, the way they were written and some of the more beautiful moments lost their weight in descriptions of process that went on for just a couple of paragraphs too long. Still, the experience of the whole book is worth it. Cold Mountain is often referred to as a "contemporary classic". I have to say that I think that fits.

I'll be watching the movie this week and I'll follow up with some thoughts. I've been told not to expect much, but come on guys- Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellwegger? I'm probably going to dig it.

I left my paperback copy, gleaned from God knows where, on a shelf in the '70s throw-back ski house that I stayed in this past weekend, right between the Jan Karon and the Reader's Digest condensed novelizations. I'm not one to judge, but I think it's safe to say that the contribution slightly raised the quality level on that shelf.

Special Note: Pair this book with Goldmund's "All Will Prosper" album. It's all beautiful Civil War tunes set re-arranged with Goldmund's signature atmospheric mood music. So good. It really heightened the experience.

I recommend this for: wanderlust types, Civil War buffs, Bradbury fans
I do NOT recommend this for: people who describe their ideal read as "fast-paced", Ulysses S. Grant

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