Thirteen Moons: Charles Frazier’s Exile
by Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network, 10/9/06
In the late 1990s, a host of editors and scholars gathered to reflect on what was good and what should be remembered of the waning century. In one of the most erudite lists, the best non-fiction book of the century was declared to be The Education of Henry Adams, published in 1907 and written by the grandson of John Adams.
At the same time, Charles Frazier was writing
Here in 2006, Frazier has written another great novel, Thirteen Moons, and 100 years hence, when they gather again to determine which were the awakening influences of the new century, they will first turn to Frazier.
Thirteen Moons is written with a flow and subtly of expression which we haven’t seen since Willa Cather and Tolstoy. Indeed, in a century which seemed to take its influence from an American interpretation of Trotsky’s famous maxim – “every man an Oprah, every man a Bart Simpson, every man a Bush,” writing of this depth, ability, subtlety and intuition has been exiled from the Academy.
Frazier comes not from the Academy but from the western hills of
A blind man who sells food to the troops outside a soldier’s hospital says to Frazier’s character: “It might have been worse had I ever been given a glimpse of the world and then lost it.” Therein is the tragedy of all who try and fail in war, and sometimes those who succeed. The journey home is slow and arduous, often impossible.
Yet this is a tale of faith and good hope. For when the illusion of politics and war fall from the eyes or make them blind, the essence of life can be grasped and perhaps it is only then that it can be grasped.
At journey’s end – the end of a short and perfect life for the protagonist -
Frazier’s two novels form a unified vision which - like the life of the white buffalo in Wisconsin; a harbinger of enlightenment and spiritual awakening to Native Americans - traverses two millennia and awakens in the second.
Thirteen Moons is again auspicious. The protagonist is named Cooper, perhaps in homage to James Fenimore Cooper, who first and foremost saw the white man and the Indian inextricably linked on this continent, and saw in the essence of the American experience the white man from
It was Chief Joseph who said, “Our spirit will walk among you,” and in Frazier’s cosmology it does.
In Thirteen Moons, Will Cooper, at the age of 12, is given a horse, a key and a map and sent alone on a journey through the wilderness to the edge of the Cherokee Nation. The map he carries brings him to the edge of
Frazier’s mastery goes almost unnoticed, as it should with great writers, and his subtlety sometimes matches that of the Taoist monk, Han shan. At the edge of the forest, here is Cooper looking west: “ . . . the map turned abruptly white and all the geographic opinion it ventured further was the words
Han shan would have understood that the white space on the map was wu-chi. It is the imagination and the American journey of the mind which has not yet hatched and does not yet exist, the benign state from which tai-chi, the countervailing forces of life and the ten thousand things erupt and create the flow of history.
And this is the most auspicious vision for our country and for our new century. For here we are a people not yet born, but soon to be, and soon to find the life of the heart and the mind as we’ve not known or experienced it before - in richness, subtlety, pain and slaughter, love and yearning, peace and prosperity and all that is to come.