Charles Frazier’s novel Nightwoods
follows a beautiful young woman named Luce. She lives an isolated life, having very little contact with other people. She spends most of her time working as the caretaker of an abandoned lodge. Her father is a deputy in the area but she rarely sees him; her only contact with her sister, Lily, is through letters. Luce and Lily were raised by their father from a young age when their mother left them.
Things take a turn for Luce when she learns that Lily has been murdered by her husband, Bud. The couple had two young children together, and Luce agrees to take them in. The twins, Dolores and Frank, exhibit serious signs of trauma; Luce imagines their trauma is caused by having grown up with a violent father like Bud and having witnessed their father kill their mother. She feels for the children and what they have been through, vowing to protect them from here on out, to honor the memory of her sister.
Facing murder charges, Bud hires a cunning lawyer who gets all charges against Bud dropped. However, Bud’s lawyer warns him not to get too excited; should new evidence in the case surface, the state could bring the charges against him once again.
With thoughts of jail pushed to the back of his mind, Bud focuses all of his energy on finding the money that Lily had hidden from him. Although he feels certain that he has outsmarted the police, he still worries that there could be other evidence that would seal his fate and send him to prison. His biggest concern is the twins. Although they are too young to talk, Bud worries that they will remember what happened, and once they start to develop their speech, they will out him.
Bud ends up moving to a town not far from where Luce works as a caretaker at the abandoned lodge and busies himself with becoming an integral part of the community by running his own illegal liquor operation.
As Bud draws nearer, Luce is busy adjusting to her new life with the twins. As it turns out, Dolores and Frank are little pyromaniacs who set fire to anything they can. Withdrawn, they refuse to speak to Luce, pulling away any time she attempts to interact with them.
Things seem to be looking up when Luce brings the twin to her neighbor Maddie’s place. Although she is described as a typical country bumpkin one might expect to find living out in the middle of nowhere, the children take a liking to her, and especially to her horse, Sally. The twins are mesmerized when they first lay eyes on the creature, and after learning the horse’s name, they continue to repeat it. Luce is shocked, averse as they are to speaking. Maddie places the twins on Sally’s back where they happily ride around.
The owner of the lodge that Luce looks after, old Mr. Stubblefield dies, leaving his property and all of his belongings to his son, who goes by Stubblefield. It turns out that teenage Stubblefield had a crush on Luce, and it seems that the feeling never quite went away. Stubblefield does everything he can to spend as much time around the lodge as possible in order to be around Luce.
Meanwhile, people in town are starting to talk about Bud, the newcomer. Though they appreciate his connections, they wonder about his past and his background. Lit, Luce’s father starts to look into him; Stubblefield starts asking questions as well. Bud becomes increasingly uncomfortable with all of the unwanted attention. Bud kills Lit and then threatens Stubblefield, saying that he will do the same to him if he does not mind his business.
He stops by the lodge where the twins take one look at him and tear off in the other direction, leaving Luce frantically searching for them. At the same time, Luce’s father Lit’s body is found. Luce tracks down the twins, but Bud is already there. The twins had found the hidden money that Bud had been seeking and set fire to it.
Luce’s mother instinct kicks in; she knows she must fight to save the twins. Using a razor as a weapon, she gets close enough to Bud to seriously wound him. This puts an end to Bud’s reign of terror, as he limps away, too weak to run off or to fight back against Luce.
Luce approaches the twins tentatively, unsure if they will come back on their own or run off even further into the woods. The twins ultimately follow Luce back to the lodge. By Christmas, Luce and Stubblefield are together and acting as parents to the twins. Still, they are constantly on the lookout in case Bud rears his head.