Saturday, October 28, 2006

Thirteen Moons book review

The Next Major Movie Blockbuster - Thirteen Moons

I just completed Thirteen Moons, and I found myself taking over 14 hours to enjoy it (and I'm a VERY FAST reader, an Evelyn Wood graduate). I found myself compelled to re-read paragraphs, savoring every word of Fraziers masterful prose:

“We all reach a point where we would like to draw a line across time and declare everything on the far side null. Shed our past life like a pair of muddy trousers”.

“It was nothing more than paper . . . handshakes and promises, moon beams and horse shit, trust and risk, all layered one atop the other in thin strata like cards in a deck”.

And Fraziers humor can be laugh-out-loud funny:

On Yankees: “They’re bred to do it and don’t know any better. I wouldn’t walk across the street to piss such a man if he were lit on fire”.

“As a further sign of the contempt the local animal world held for me . . . a raccoon chose the second step to the porch as his nighttime place to take a big black oily shit, punctuated with various seeds and berries.”

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare Thirteen Moons to be one of the best novels thus far in the 21st century.

And I'm choosy. Click here for my thoughts about the criteria to become one of the best books of the century.

Thirteen Moons is full of rich details, and Charles Frazier goes into great detail describing how to kill and eat the native critters of North Carolina, replete with recipies and the proper way to eat a roasted squirrel:

Thirteen Moons hits many of my literary hot buttons, a compelling read:

- It’s got amazing scenic descriptions reminiscent of Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage”

- It has hilarious celebrity encounters reminscent of “Forrest Gump”

- The main character (Will Cooper) has all the sympathetic flaws of Gus from “Lonesome Dove”

- The plot has an eerie similarity with the first part of “Dancing with Wolves”.

I especially loved the descriptions of Andrew Jackson as an ignorant dumbass, with his crazy hair and possum-like teeth:

It’s also moving at a personal level, painting a moving and accurate picture or racism, and as a proud mongrel with Indian blood, I found it deeply personal.

My family's personal experience with racism

Cold Mountain & Golden Delicious Apples

Fans of Charles Frazier know all about the Golden Delicious Apples mistake (Golden Delicious apples did not exist in the Civil War). When I hit the Golden Delicious part of Cold Mountain, I set it aside in disgust for almost a week. The problem is that you get so sucked-in to the reality of 19th century life that hitting a mistake is like a turd in the punchbowl:

Another minor annoyance was Frazier’s use of “etcetera”, indicating that he knew that “etc.” was not used in the 1800’s. I’m left confused about why he did not use the “ampersand c” notation, common in many of the periodical he mentions, &c, &c. In Thirteen Moons, Frazier mention bear grease numerous time, yet I was disappointed that he never once mentions the most common uses for Bear Grease.

Here are my notes on the
virtues of Bear Grease

Thirteen Moons and Poontang

Throughout Thirteen Moons, Frazier takes-on the incredible challenge of describing the diction of the common spoken English of the early frontiersman, an almost impossible task given that real-world cursing was never recorded on paper. We know that Stephen Crane heard the cussing from the veterans of Petersburg, for in his classic “The Red Badge of Courage”, Crane refers to cussing euphemistically, as “swearing a cross oath”:

“He never drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath”.

When Frazier interjects the word “Poontang” into the text, I was immediately suspicious. I first heard about "Poontang" from southern blacks, and I really doubt that it was in-use when Frazier's characters were alive. A review of the Etymology of Poontang reveals that it’s possible that Will may have know the word, but this page says that Poontang was first used in-writing in 1929:

“Several sources claim that it (Poontang) first appeared somewhere in the 1910s or 1920s (Chapman, 1995; Ayto and Simpson, 1992).”

I was also taken-aback with Frazier’s use of the F work (Claire: ”I didn’t f**k him”), and because Frazier is known for his accuracy, curiosity compelled me to investigate further. Professor Steven Cerutti’s master work “The Words of the Day” notes the following on the origins and usage of the “F” word:

The Real Origin of the F Word

Thirteen Moons – The Movie

Even though it won't be released until 2008, let me get the ball rolling. By definition, this amazing book will not make a worthy movie, it’s impossible. There are no clear-cut villains (Featherstone) and the subtleties that make this book great will never translate well into film. However, I have no doubt that “Thirteen Moons” will be a blockbuster movie nonetheless, for these reasons:

A man in another age – The initial scene of Ancient William, a living relic of the American frontier, living in the land of telephones and movies is very compelling. In the movie, they should start out with Will being paraded-out in a 1910 newsreel talkie, like they did with Ole Thomas Edison. Will is a living link to an ancient past, a man who knew Revolutionary War soldiers. It’s akin to the superb Kubrick masterpiece AI, where Stanly Kubrick interjects a sense of awe when the child robot is revived after thousands of years “here is a robot that actually knew living human beings”.

The smart triumph over the stupid - The conflict between the wise outnumbered Indians and their dumbass Yankee masters, makes for a great story.

Profound insights – I loved the section where Will noted that babies (and housecats) would kill us without a thought if given a chance. Better still, his descriptions of the old ways and social mores of the 19th century ring-true with amazing clarity.

Humor - “As a further sign of the contempt the local animal world held for me . . . a raccoon chose the second step to the porch as his nighttime place to take a big black oily shit, punctuated with various seeds and berries.” Also, the last page of Thirteen Moons will translate into an impressive movie scene, an unforgettable and heartwarming image that summarized the whole boo in one masterful stroke of Frazier’s pen.

Racism – Thirteen Moons delves into great details on the laws of races, and I was surprised to discover, that, had I been born 150 years earlier, I would be legally prohibited from marrying a white woman (and I’m only a small-part Cherokee).

Nonetheless, despite my doubts on tiny historical issues, Thirteen Moons is an engrossing read for the worthy scholar.

Click here for my full
Review of the Historical Accuracy of Thirteen Moons