Meet Will Cooper, a singular fellow whose life began in early 19th-century America. He was indentured as a 12-year-old orphan to work at an isolated trading post in the southern Appalachians, where a land-hungry America was fast encroaching upon the world of the Cherokees. Throughout his life, Will a voracious reader especially fond of tales of chivalry amassed adventures that would have impressed even Sir Thomas Malory and Sir Walter Scott. In fact, the indefatigable Will became famous as a senator and a colonel in the War. And, most romantically, white chief of the Indians. Now in his 90s, Will knows that he is leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals yearn to travel. And with time running out, Will understands memory as now being about the only intoxicant left in his long and remarkable life.
Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's powerful, lyrical second novel (after the National Book Award-winning Cold Mountain), is an extended dramatic monologue in which Will remembers the saga of his life. As we immerse ourselves in Frazier's mellifluous prose, we meet among dozens of fascinating characters the man known as Bear, Will's adoptive father and the loquacious chief of the Cherokees, a damaged people living in a broken world like everybody else. We also meet Claire, the provocative, elusive adolescent beauty who would forever be the unattainable Guinevere to Will's devoted Lancelot. Reading Thirteen Moons is an intoxicating experience in which the author invites us to take a different view of America's transition from the romantic 19th century to the modern 20th century. This is not an elegiac, Proustian remembrance of the past. Instead, we must uncomfortably acknowledge the disturbing ways in which so-called progress has forever altered important parts of the American cultural landscape. This is 21st-century literary fiction at its very best.
Tim Davis is a literature instructor at the University of West Florida.