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Wednesday, October 11th, 2006
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Thirteen Moons: A Novel

by Charles Frazier

$20,000 A Page

A review by By Noah Oppenheim

The slush pile is a hospice for the dreams of wannabe writers -- where their unsolicited manuscripts go to die. When Charles Frazier was a complete unknown, his first novel, Cold Mountain, was reportedly plucked from just such a garbage stack to sell four million copies and win the National Book Award. It's the literary equivalent of not only making the team as a walk-on but winning the Heisman.

After Cold Mountain, Frazier -- newly powered, newly moneyed -- scribbled out a one-page book idea and sold that. For $8.25 million. The result, four years later, is Thirteen Moons -- the best evidence yet that somewhere between one page and 400, a lot can go wrong.

In this second historical outing, Frazier tells the story of a white orphan who rises to become chief of a Cherokee clan, fights for the Confederacy, and conveniently happens upon Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett. Think Forrest Gump on the frontier, minus the bewildered charm. Our narrator is a bitter old man prone to morose philosophical proclamations. And while there are plenty of yearbook-ready epigrams, he apparently can't remember conversation. There is almost no dialogue.

The chief's desperate romantic yearning for a girl named Claire is the barely beating heart of this novel. You'll marvel as Frazier invents sitcom obstacles to keep these lovers star-crossed. What Frazier does not invent are the details of life on the rugged outskirts of a still-infant nation. The man clearly knows his way around the research library.

Plodding through Thirteen Moons, one admires its scope and verisimilitude. But this tale is meant to be an elegy -- both for a woman and an epoch of history. And in the end, you probably won't miss either. You'll mourn only that bygone era when reward and result bore a closer correlation.

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