Cold Mountain is a tough act to follow. Yet Charles Frazier more than rises to the occasion with Thirteen Moons, an extraordinary fictional reminiscence of a rich, exotic life in the South in the first half of the 19th century. The engaging narrator, Will Cooper, is bound in servitude to run a remote trading post in Indian country in the mountains of North Carolina, about twenty-five years before the Civil War. An intelligent, literate young man with a romantic imagination, Will is adopted by an old Cherokee chief named Bear, and spends much of his life helping his adopted people preserve their heritage from an encroaching Federal policy of Indian removal.
The heart of the story, however, is Will’s love affair with the mysterious Claire. Like the poetically named Indian moons that thread the novel as timekeepers and symbols, Claire’s presence haunts every page of this beautifully imagined, exquisitely told tale. In addition to creating vivid characters, Frazier has an astonishing command of his craft, making sentences and paragraphs into scenes that stay with you on all levels. Yet at no time does the style become overbearing, or lose its gently humorous undertone of self-awareness. Some moments call to mind the comic timing of Mark Twain. Others take one’s breath away with the sheer magnificence of their insight.
If, as Will says midway through the book, “Writers can tell any lie that leaps into their heads,” in doing so Frazier reveals essential truths. This is a book to be savored, to be read slowly, to be reread from time to time. Highly recommended.