04 February 2007
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
is an engaging story from the perspective of Will Cooper, a nonagenarian frontiersman of the late 19th and early 20th century. I just loved reading this book, engaging with this retired rapscallion and reading his reflective, moderated tale of excesses and reflection. There is a love story in the tale, of his ardent pursuit of the nearly unattainable Claire, and the twisted complications of their relationship. There is a story here about father-son relationships (or, fathers-son) and how the obligations of child to parent are borne beyond death. There is a place story here too, of how love for and understanding of a place - and one's sense of home in it - can drive one to places and positions that to outsiders seem insensible.
Comedy and tragedy in this novel are subtle and genuine. Comic moments arrive so quietly as to fade at times, in Bear's discussion of his romantic troubles, Will's mediation of tribal disputes, and the ineptitude of government representatves to the Nation in handling translators. Tragedy is also blurred and unfocused; the specific tragedies of an unfortunately gelded horse lead to a chain of unfortunate events and relationship ruptures. The miseries of the Cherokee in facing their relocation and the smallpox epidemic are seen aslant from the narrator, too dismal and dismaying to encompass head-on.
Will's zest for his mission in life, to create a stable place for his people, creates a nobility in this otherwise roguish character. His yearning and romantic idealization of Claire transform a lusty crush into something of more profound moment. In such a way the author reveals the thin margin that separates the mundane from the divine, and the routine from the extraordinary in a way that separates himself from the run-of-the mill storytellers available on any bookshelf. I highly recommend this novel.