October 28, 2006

NY Times reviews Thirteen Moons

Trail of TearsLike “Cold Mountain,” then, “Thirteen Moons” is a book with grand, bordering on grandiose, ambitions. At its best, Frazier’s writing achieves an almost Virgilian level of polish, expressed in elegant similes: a pair of dueling pistols in a velvet-lined case look “like lovers coupling in a canopy bed.” A scene of looters at work during the Cherokee evacuation might have come straight from the sack of Troy: “Sometimes the rabble fell upon a place so soon after vacancy that the owners could look back and see them trying to straddle a plow mule or struggling to lead away a reluctant hog by a rope around its neck or flailing about in the farmyard chasing old big-breasted and flightless hens that ran squawking with their wings trailing in the dust.” This beautifully drawn scene is especially poignant because the animals’ masters have also just been ignominiously herded off their farms.

How, then, to explain the much more frequent patches of bad—really bad—writing in “Thirteen Moons”? This starts with the book’s very first sentences, which are so awful that they beg to be read aloud: “There is no scatheless rapture. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals yearn to travel.” To be sure, there were plenty of passages like this in “Cold Mountain”—of prose that somehow managed to be simultaneously portentous, folksy and cloying, like banjo music on the soundtrack of a Ken Burns documentary. But the volume in “Thirteen Moons” has been cranked up considerably.

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