The story begins with Luce, a woman of indeterminate age, who has given up on society. She lives by herself in an abandoned hotel, across a lake from a small, rural town in the Appalachian mountains. When her only sister is murdered, Luce takes in her sister's two small children because there is no one else to care for them.
The beginning of this story immediately drew me into the novel. Luce is an independent and interesting character. There are mysterious questions surrounding how Luce ended up where she was, what happened to the children, what happened to their mother, and if they are still in danger. The violence in the novel is so unexpected and uncontrollable that it was truly terrifying. Also, Frazier gives just enough detail about each character that you can sense how deeply hurt they've been in the past. And after understanding their struggles, the small bits of hope and change you start to see are very welcome.
However, something kept me from connecting too much to the characters, especially in the second half of the book. I'm sure some of this came from the fact that we learned very little about the main characters--just enough to understand their major motivations. The two children were always described together and did not have any separate traits. There is some backstory on Luce, but there is almost nothing about Stubblefield (another important character who I am just now mentioning for the first time). So, although I was interested in what would happen, I never felt too involved. After a tense, mysterious, and heart wrenching beginning, the story settled down into quiet contemplations and reflections of the woods and surroundings. I may have been able to enjoy this more if I had the opportunity to sit down, relax and really let the feel of the book take over. Unfortunately, quiet contemplation did not work well when I was trying to steal a couple of pages on the noisy, smelly city bus as I made my way to work.