Thirteen Moons (Frazier)

Book Reviews
Mr. Frazier recounts Will’s melancholy adventures with plenty of narrative brio, giving the reader a succession of suspenseful—and in some cases touching —set pieces: the young Will venturing out into the wilderness for the first time, armed only with a sketchy map and a few provisions; Will facing off in a duel with Claire’s sadistic guardian, Featherstone; Will and Bear deciding to hunt down a group of their own people (who have killed some government soldiers) to win permission to stay on their land.
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times

(Starred review.) When Frazier's debut Cold Mountain blossomed into a National Book Award-winning bestseller with four million copies in print, expectations for the follow-up rose almost immediately. A decade later, the good news is that Frazier's storytelling prowess doesn't falter in this sophomore effort, a bountiful literary panorama again set primarily in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. The story takes place mostly before the Civil War this time, and it is epic in scope. With pristine prose that's often wry, Frazier brings a rough-and-tumble pioneer past magnificently to life, indicts America with painful bluntness for the betrayal of its native people and recounts a romance rife with sadness.

In a departure from Cold Mountain's Inman, Will Cooper narrates his own story in retrospect, beginning with his days as an orphaned, literate "bound boy" who is dispatched to run a musty trading post at the edge of the Cherokee Nation. Nearly nine mesmerizing decades later, Will is an eccentric elder of great accomplishments and gargantuan failures, perched cantankerously on his front porch taking potshots at passenger trains rumbling across his property (he owns "quite a few" shares of the railroad). Over the years, Will—modeled very loosely, Frazier acknowledges, on real-life frontiersman William Holland Thomas—becomes a prosperous merchant, a self-taught lawyer and a state senator; he's adopted by a Cherokee elder and later leads the clan as a white Indian chief; he bears terrible witness to the 1838-1839 Trail of Tears; a quarter-century later, he goes to battle for the Confederacy as a self-anointed colonel, leading a mostly Indian force with a "legion of lawyers and bookkeepers and shop clerks" as officers; as time passes, his life intersects with such figures as Davy Crockett, Sen. John C. Calhoun and President Andrew Jackson.

After the Civil War, Will fritters away a fortune through wanderlust, neglect and unquenched longing for his one true love, Claire, a girl he won in a card game when they were both 12, wooed for two erotic summers in his teen years and found again several decades later. In the novel's wistful coda, recalling Claire's voice inflicts "flesh wounds of memory, painful but inconclusive"-a voice that an uncertain old Will hears in the static hiss when he answers his newfangled phone in the book's opening pages. The history that Frazier hauntingly unwinds through Will is as melodic as it is melancholy, but the sublime love story is the narrative's true heart.
Publishers Weekly

If Frazier modeled Cold Mountain on The Odyssey, his template for Thirteen Moons could well be Little Big Man, as a very old man tells tall tales about his life with American Indians. Indentured at 12 and sent to Cherokee territory to run a trading post, Will Cooper gets more or less adopted by Bear, a Cherokee chief who maintains the old ways, and Featherstone, the owner of a slave-supported plantation. Will also falls hard and permanently for Claire, who drifts in and out of his life over the years. He takes to the law and tries to defend Cherokees from the land grabs that culminated in the Trail of Tears. His tales are mostly fascinating, and the insights into the period priceless. Reader Will Patton sounds too young to portray the ancient Cooper, but much of the book concerns his youthful adventures. If the novel gradually becomes less adventuresome and bogs down in mundane legal complications, well, so do many real lives. If not the home run that Cold Mountain was, Thirteen Moons is at least a stand-up double and one of the more entertaining novels of the year. Libraries will want to have it.
John Hiett - Library Journal

The recent resurgence in historical fiction arguably dates from the critical and popular success of North Carolinian Charles Frazier's memorable first novel, Cold Mountain. A romantic epic in the classic mold, this richly detailed sag of a Civil War deserter's homeward odyssey won the 1997 National Book Award and inspired a haunting 2003 feature film.

Classical precedent likewise informs and shapes Frazier's long-awaited second novel, in which a rootless an restless protagonist, like Cold Mountain's embattled hero, Inman, expends the energies of a long lifetime seeking permanent reunion with the only woman he'll ever love, who love shim in return yet moves in and out of his yearning orbit during the decades they are apart, but never entirely trusts him nor can bring herself to share his patchwork experience.

Like the beleaguered heroes of the books that are his lifelong sustenance, he's a visionary fixated on an ever-receding ideal: the noble knight Lancelot, cursed and burdened by his own divided and enervated loyalties.

She is Claire Featherstone, the ethereally beautiful young wife of a "white" (i.e. half-breed) Indian who prospers as a landowners and patriarch in the Cherokee Nation that stretches westward from the Carolinas to Oklahoma.

He is Will Cooper, an orphan and "bound boy" sold by his relatives to an "antique gentleman" who places adolescent Will in a moribund trading post on the edge of "the (Cherokee) Nation"—from which humble beginning he earns a vast fortune, bonds closely with his Cherokee neighbors and mentors (his conflicted friendship with the mercurial Featherstone overshadowed by his filial devotion to the equally prominent chief known as Bear), studies law and represents "his people" against the repressive policies of Indian-hating President Andrew Jackson, becomes a state senator and an itinerant buffer between the red men's and white men's worlds, all the while pursuing the memory, the dream and the promise of the elusive Claire.

Thirteen Moons brings this vanished world thrillingly to life, retelling the agonizing stories of "the Removal" (of Indians from their ancestral lands) and the lie of "Reconstruction"; creating literally dozens of heart-stopping word pictures (e.g. autumns display "a few stunted pumpkins still glowing in the fields an a few persistent apples hanging red in the skeletal orchards"); building unforgettable characterizations of the sorrow-laden everyman Will (whom we first, then finally, glimpse as a reclusive anachronism, weathered by "a near century of living"), unpredictable Featherstone and stoical Beat (a character Faulkner might have created), Claire who belongs to no man, ancient medicine woman Granny Squirrel, and all the uprooted and dispossessed souls enduring "the days and nights, the thirteen moons" of each accumulating year, while making their final journey "to the Nightland".

One of the great Native American—and American—stories, and a great gift to all of us, from one of our very best writers.
Kirkus Reviews

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