Book of the Times - The New York Times Book Review

By: Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

October 3, 1988

The plot of Sandra Crockett Moore’s unusual first novel, “Private Woods” is likewise ordinary, at least in superficial outline. Sarah Lannom sets off with her husband, Dick, and another couple for a weekend of deer hunting at an isolated lodge in eastern Tennessee. On the way, she learns to her dismay that their guide will be Sonny Woods, a childhood friend she had intended to marry 17 years earlier, until he returned from combat in Vietnam a seemingly altered person. 

When everyone has gathered at the lodge, Sonny turns out to be happily married also, to a distant cousin of Sarah’s. But soon Sarah and Sonny discover that they are still in love. Sonny forces the issue by taking Sarah away with him deeper into the wilderness. Sarah will have to choose between Sonny and her husband.

What is unusual about this otherwise conventional love story is Ms. Moore’s extraordinary command of a world that would once have been stereotyped as masculine. She knows all about deer hunting with a bow and arrow. She describes the violence of war unflinchingly and in shocking detail. In fact, what she has created in “Private Woods” reminds one very much of James Dickey’s “Deliverance,” except that what shattered that novel’s world was a homosexual act and what threatens this novel’s equilibrium is a heterosexual one.

While the men in the party bicker over hunting styles, Sonny addresses the encroachment of technology on nature. One of men commits the sin of “gut shooting” a deer, than which there is nothing worse “in the society of deer hunters … unless it would be shooting a human or a head of livestock.” There is talk of a hunting accident in the past in which a friend of Sonny’s was killed by an arrow shot into his femoral artery.

But whatever there various developments portend - and in the early pages of “Private Woods” they portend a good deal - it eventually gets lost in the story of Sonny and Sarah’s reunion. Many readers will applaud this; indeed, some will justifiably argue that the deeper theme of the novel is how true love triumphs over violence.

Book of the Times - The New York Times Book Review

October 23, 1988

By Polly Morrice

For a novel set in an isolated hunting lodge in the Appalachian Mountains, “Private Woods” is filled with homely, almost suburban details of meals served and dishes scrubbed. A strict division of labor applies, while the with the women preparing the food and waiting on their men-folk, who exchange macho challenges when not tracking deer with bows and arrows. It is in this atmosphere, charged with both blood and cooking smells, that Sarah Lannom encounters a surprise guest - her first love, Sonny Woods.

Seventeen years have passed since their last, tense meeting, following Sonny’s return from Vietnam. Sarah has since become a successful artist and the devoted wife of a computer executive, while Sonny, still tortured by memories of the war, has married a woman raised in the country and earns a living by hiring out as a guide for city slickers.

In her debut novel, Sandra Crockett Moore uses direct, unadorned prose to describe the rekindling of old emotions and the consequences of Sarah and Sonny’s reunion. And Mrs. Moore’s spare style suits many of the traditional ideas that are expressed in the course of her narrative - that Sonny is the 1980’s version of a natural man; that shooting animals with a bow is more sporting than using a gun. One of the wives even argues, in defense of the male urge to hunt, that “killing is a part of man’s nature, any man’s.” Not all readers will agree with these opinions, but many will be drawn in by Moore’s narrative skills and by the conviction with which she tells her story.

Quotes from Various Reviews

”A skillfully written, absorbing story of a women caught in her love for two men.” 

- Publishers Weekly

” Unconventional romance where a woman in love with two men confronts her past - a well-crafted novel.” 

- Kirkus Reviews

” A masterfully written, finely tuned book that manages to be both deeply seated in place, yet universal.” 

- Robert Houston

“Sandra Crockett Moore turns the materials of melodrama into a compelling story, uttering not a single self-conscious word.” 

- John Rolfe Gardiner

”One of those rare novels that gets both men and women right, that transcends gender as good writing must do. A story cleanly told, with fine insights into men and women tempered by the Vietnam War.” 

- Asa Baber

“Somewhere between Deliverance and The Big Chill, Moore’s Private Woods is a suspenseful, dramatic, sensitively written, and powerfully realized novel.” 

- Patrick Anderson