Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thirteen Moons and Calvin Coolidge

8. Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier. Fiction, 1-25, p. 420
9. Calvin Coolidge, David Greenberg. Biography, 1-26, p. 159

Thirteen Moons is Charles Frazier’s first book since the release of his spectacularly successful Cold Mountain. Thirteen Moons has not enjoyed either the commercial or critical success of Cold Mountain, which is something of a mystery. I found this to be a lyrical book with a muscular narrative that kept me turning the pages.

Thirteen Moons is the story of Will Cooper, who at the age of 12 makes his way to the Cherokee Nation as a “bound” boy –indentured, by his aunt and uncle, to a shopkeeper. Will is given the task of running a remote outpost. En route he meets the young woman that he will love throughout his life and on the day he walks up the steps of the outpost he meets Bear, the Cherokee chief who will become his adopted father and second great love.

After he gains his release, Will expands his business holdings and becomes a frontier lawyer. He uses his knowledge of the law to build a paper empire, buying vast portions of the mountain country to provide a home for Bear and his clan and to save them from the brutal, forced journey to Oklahoma that devastates most of the Cherokee Nation.

Thirteen Moons is the story of loss – Will’s loss of Claire, the Cherokee’s loss of their homeland, the nation’s loss of innocence and, ultimately, the loss of a bountiful land. When Will first arrives much of the big game has already been eradicated and by the end of the book – when he is an angry old man taking pot shots at a passing train – the great forests are being logged out and the once clear rivers are a sad, muddy brown.

Frazier is a consummate story teller. Thirteen Moons is something like a Russian matruska or nesting doll with stories within stories. Frazier does a remarkable job, not only in capturing the spirit of frontier life, but in painting a vivid portrait of the way life was actually lived, both by the Cherokee and the invaders from the East.

Calvin Coolidge by David Greenberg is part of The American Presidents series from Times Books. It is a splendid collection of brief biographies now encompassing 23 books, 23 men; especially valuable are the biographies of such little-known presidents as Harding, Arthur and Coolidge.

Chances are that all most of us can recall about Coolidge, the 30th president, is that he was known as “Silent Cal.” He was an extremely reticent man, yet Coolidge enjoyed great popularity. It is not overstating the case to say that he was revered by the American people.

A few highlights:

  • A successful governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge became Warren Harding’s running mate in 1920. He became president upon the Harding’s death.

  • He was elected in his own right in 1924. Except for Theodore Roosevelt, no other vice president “who inherited the presidency had won so much as his own party’s nomination in the next election cycle.”

  • Reticent he may have been, but Coolidge was a successful public speaker. His speeches were uniformly well received. He held 520 presidential press conference – more than any chief executive before or since – used radio addresses to the nation effectively and was abetted by the day’s leading publicists.

  • The nation enjoyed great prosperity under Coolidge, but, of course, the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression were on the horizon; events that brought into question and, finally, disrepute Coolidge’s trickle down economic policies.

Greenberg judges Coolidge’s presidency with an even hand. He sees Coolidge as a forerunner of the modern presidential style. “ . . . if he fared poorly in the presidential duty to get a program through Congress, he was eminently successful in fulfilling the other function of the presidency – to be a representative symbol and visible embodiment of the people.”

“Because of his modern approach to governance – and his faith in the New Era – it is more helpful to see Coolidge as a bridge between two epochs . . . “ Greenberg writes. “Coolidge deployed twentieth-century methods to promote nineteenth-century values – and used nineteenth-century values to soothe the apprehension caused by twentieth-century dislocations. Straddling the two eras, he spoke for a nation in flux.”

No comments:

Post a Comment