An American Life

It is not impossible, merely difficult, for the author of a highly praised first novel to produce a second worthy of its predecessor.  Perhaps paucity of imagination is responsible for the failure of many second novels; the writer emptied his quiver the first time or got lucky with a flash-in-the-pan and should not have tried again.  In Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier shows that he had at least one more novel in him after Cold Mountain, which won the National Book Award in 1997 and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, was on the New York Times best-seller list, and was the basis for a film.  Readers who liked Cold Mountain may admire this new work equally; those less pleased are unlikely to be won over.

Thirteen Moons, a first-person retrospective account, relates the life of a Southern white man, Will Cooper, from his adolescence early in the 19th century until very old age in the 20th.  The main historical framework is consonant with factual accounts.  Frazier lists sources in a brief note, acknowledging that, though the work is fiction, the narrator bears some resemblance to one William Holland Thomas, and a figure called Charley, to the historical Tsali.  Like Cooper, the novel is tough and sinewy.  As such, it is a man’s novel but will appeal also to women who like men’s novels.  The setting is the southern Appalachians,...

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