Thirteen Moons: The beauty is written with the words and not found in the story.
May 28, 2013
I read Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain twice—once before watching the movie, and again after. The great cinematography in the movie made me want to go there again on the printed page. I think I may have been a little distracted on the first read, because I recall finding it a tough slog for the first hundred pages or so. I just couldn’t identify or have much sympathy for Inman, the main character. Of course, I almost never quit on a book and my determination was amply rewarded.
Thirteen Moons sat in my unread pile for several years. I can’t explain why. Guess I was worried that it might fail victim to the “sophomore jinx” or maybe I feared it was going to be too literary for an old country boy. Frazier writes so well it probably intimidates me.
I find it difficult to describe him or his writing. It is lyrical, poetic, and descriptive. But he just does not let me connect to his characters in this one, especially Will Cooper, the protagonist. I found myself forgetting his name and did not have a clear picture of him in my mind. I think it was because we seldom hear him talk (as in dialogue).
Will tells the story from the perspective of an old man nearly ninety. He is twelve when his aunt and uncle send him away as a “bound boy” to a merchant who runs trading posts at the edge of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina. At twelve and continuing through his teen years, Will is extremely well read and mature.
He is an accomplished gambler as well. I know that boys during that era matured much faster than boys of today, but I found that his devouring of major literary works sounded more like the author than the character. Wouldn’t mere ownership of quality literary books by a bound boy of twelve have been highly unusual? Maybe not.
Will’s gambling prowess with seasoned adults, although explained, seems to also lack verisimilitude (see, I know big words, too). He actually wins a young girl in a card game, starting a life-long romance. The romance develops, but the first encounter between a couple twelve and thirteen seemed a little over the top. Maybe it’s just me.
Will’s exploits as an adult also border on the fanciful, until you learn that the character is loosely based on the historical William Thomas Holland. I had a hard time swallowing that a white man could become a Cherokee Chief, a merchant with multiple trading posts, and obtain landholdings larger than some states. Holland didn’t do all these things, but he was a Cherokee Chief.
Frazier did win me over with his expert and impartial rendering of Cherokee history, including the Trail of Tears and the tribe’s role in the Civil War, Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction. Frazier also describes the North Carolina mountain landscape with perfection and enough emotion to make you want to live there.