three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-ThirteenMoonsAs he sits on his porch and observes signs of progress all around him, the aging Will Cooper reflects back on nearly nine decades of an event-filled life in the Great Smoky Mountains and environs. As a child before the Civil War, he becomes a runner for a trading post on the edge of the Cherokee Nation. Soon, a powerful tribal leader adopts him and the white Will meets the love of his life, Claire. He suffers with the tribe through the Trail of Tears; becomes a white Indian chief, lawyer, prosperous merchant, and state senator; fights Andrew Jackson’s repressive Indian policies; and organizes a company of Cherokee soldiers for the Confederacy. Throughout this picaresque, Will maintains the vision of love that has kept him alive.
Random House. 422 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0375509321

Denver Post4 of 5 Stars
"No sophomore jinx here. … The beauty of Frazier’s storytelling is in the telling. In Thirteen Moons, we are given the details of life in the wilderness in the early 19th century, its sounds and smells and tastes—even its recreation." Tom Walker

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Frazier gives us a modest vessel for his meditations on history: one scheming, funny, learned, randy, highly imperfect human being. … Will tells us his life’s story from the vantage point of old age, and one of the best things about the book is the voice Frazier finds for the old man as he looks back on his younger self." Claire Dederer

San Jose Mercury News3.5 of 5 Stars
"In fact, the real love stories in Thirteen Moons are between Will and the Cherokee Indian who adopts him, between Will and his horse and, most of all, between Will and the mountains. … Like Frazier’s debut book, it displays the same exceptional gift for immersing the reader in a bygone world, the same sly and luminous mastery of language, and the same recognition that both drunks and preachers are, at best, only human." Charles Matthews

Charlotte Observer 3 of 5 Stars
"[Will] describes his resistance to the Removal, but also his complicity. … The book is at its best in these sections, fiction of the highest order. At times, however, Will’s distance as a narrator undermines the immediacy of his story." Ruth Ann Grissom

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Whereas the love story in Cold Mountain felt like a real romance between two real people, fleshed out in intimate psychological detail, the one in Thirteen Moons feels more like an authorial construct between his hero and a beauteous wraith who mysteriously appears and disappears as the plot demands. … It is Will’s relationship with Bear—and with Bear’s people that is the emotional anchor of this book, and it is Will’s efforts to save a remnant of Cherokee land from the United States government that provide the novel’s real narrative drama." Michiko Kakutani

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"Will’s (and Frazier’s) love for his Cherokee family and the Eden of the Smoky Mountains created the power and beauty of Thirteen Moons early chapters. Their loss, however, left the novelist and his hero empty and a promising novel adrift." Bob Hoover

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"Reading Frazier is like sitting by the cracker barrel for hour after hour and listening to an amiable but impossibly gassy guy who talks real slow, says ‘I reckon’ a whole lot and never shuts up. … Even as Frazier is tugging away at our heartstrings, he’s trying to show how tough and realistic he can be, but it feels strained and unpersuasive." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

Critics voiced great expectations for Thirteen Moons, coming nearly ten years after Charles Frazier’s National Book Award-winning Cold Mountain (1997). Unfortunately, this second novel fails to achieve the same uniform critical acclaim. Certainly, similarities between the two books abound, including a deep appreciation for the Southern Appalachian landscape, a protagonist embarking on a life-defining odyssey, an elegiac tone, and swatches of excellent prose. Here, Frazier frames Will’s story against America’s transition from a frontier society into an industrial nation. Despite some praise, reviewers generally agree that Thirteen Moons is an "airier production" (New York Times), with perhaps more clichés, less convincing characterizations and relationships, and a less wieldy plot. What critics do agree on, however, is the excellent period detail and research that makes Frazier a first-rate chronicler of American history.