Monday, June 25, 2007

Commonplace Entry - Thirteen Moons

I just finished reading Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's second novel. I adored everything about his first book Cold Mountain, the setting, the characters, the epic journey of Inman home from the Civil War to his love, much like Odysseus overcoming obstacles to return to prudent Penelope.

This book had many of the same elements, a man with a passion for a woman, but who is caught up in historic events that shapes his life in ways not always his own choosing. The setting, the Great Smokey Mountains, is the same, and the journey, peopled with an assortment of mountain people, Cherokees, politicians and scalawags. Or am I repeating myself? The lyric language is there, the violence, the sweep of history. But this second book dragged a bit for me, the main character, Will Cooper, just didn't have the appeal that Inman had, especially in the later parts of the book. Perhaps because he lives old age, he comes to much more regret and sadness.

Nevertheless, the book had passages that resonated with me, and that went into my commonplace notebook. There are a couple:

"There is no scathless rapure. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts and animals yearn t travel. We're called to it, I feel it pulling me, same as everyone else. It iss the last unmapped country, and a dark way of getting there. And maybe not exactly Paradise at the end. The belief I've acquired over a generous and nevertheless inadequate time on earth is that we arrive in an afterlife as broken as when we departed from the world. But, on the other hand, I've always enjoyed the journey."

"There was plenty of time for thinking in the winterhouse with the snow banked up to the low eves and the world as silent as death except for the little trance provoking sounds of the fire. I decided that many of Bear's stories and comments shared a common drift. They advised against fearing of all creation. But not because it was always benign, for it is not. It will, with certainty, always consume us all. We are made to be destroyed. We are kindling for the fire, and our lives will stand as naught against the onrush of time. Bear's position, if I understand it, was that refusal to fear these general terms of existence is and h onorable act of definace."

"In the old days Granny Squirrel's recollection, before the arrival of the Spaniards and their metal hats, living long was different. Little changed during your span of time, birth to death. Individual people, of course, came and went, that's the unfortunate transitory nature of people. The physical world surrounding you, though, remained about the same from start to finish. Short of utter apocalyse, the landscape was what it was throughout one's brief life. Animals all the same. No unexpected pigs or elephants erupting confusingly into the world. Food was food. Clothes remained clothes. Meaningless innovations in hat styles had not yet occurred. All that you had learned in childhood remained largely in effect lifelong. When you got old and approached death, it was not an unrecognizeable world you left, for we had not yet learned how to break it apart. Back then, about all that changed was that a few big trees had fallen and many new trees had grown in their places... Does overwhelming change, the annihilation of all you know, create an intensity of memory that would not have existed otherwise? When all you know is lost and gone forever, does it make you want to let go or hang on tighter?

All I can say is that we are mistaken to gouge such a deep rift in history that the things old men and old women know have become so useless as to be not worth passing on to grandchildren."


Sharon said...

I liked both of these books a lot, but agree with you that Inman was a more sympathetic and less cynical character. Interesting quotes from the book, particularly the one about change. Constant change due to science and technology is such a given now. It's interesting to think about the fact that for much of human history, generations of people lived with virtually no changes in their way of life.

Sherry said...

Sharon, I thought of my grandmother, born in the mountains of Washington in 1903, who died at age 99. She talked about how the world had changed from her girlhood, and how hard it was to adjust to such rapid change. The Frazier quote put it eloquently.