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The tale of a native son

Charles Frazier's latest novel is a firsthand account of the dying days of the frontier wildness in the North Carolina mountains.

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After reading Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons, there is only one question left to answer: Will Hollywood tap age-appropriate stars Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood as protagonist Will Cooper or will it instead let Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrestle for the rights?

If a bonus question is permitted, what are the chances Renée Zellweger might be induced to take on the role of Claire, Cooper's haughty love interest?

Before we get to the inevitable movie two or three years hence, it should be noted that Mr. Frazier has written an uneven historical novel a decade after debuting with the bestseller "Cold Mountain." His ascent in 1997 came out of nowhere, propelled by word-of-mouth, rave reviews, and all-star applause from John Berendt and Willie Morris.

Things have changed: Frazier's new novel is known as much for the $8 million advance it fetched as for its subject matter.

Much like his previous book, "Thirteen Moons" alternates between terrifying random violence, rapaciousness, unrequited love, and a relentless fixation on the natural world that proves to be alternately cloying and wondrous.

When Frazier hits the right note, he dazzles, as in this passage early in the novel. "Writing a thing down fixes it in place as surely as a rattlesnake skin stripped from the meat and stretched and tacked to a barn wall. Every bit as stationary, and every bit as false to the original thing. Flat and still harmless."

Cooper, inspired by William Holland Thomas, offers a firsthand account spanning the dying days of frontier wildness through the Civil War and on to the arrival of telephones and automobiles. Think of him as a less-beloved male sibling to Allan Gurganus's bawdy Confederate widow, recast as Oldest Living Cherokee Tells All.

As with "Cold Mountain," much of the novel takes place in, and describes in minute detail, the mountains of western North Carolina.


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