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Frazier’s ‘Thirteen Moons’ disappoints

Both commercially and critically, Frazier’s second book — one of the year’s most anticipated novels — is no ‘Cold Mountain.’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Charles Frazier’s “Thirteen Moons” is a best seller, with more than 100,000 copies sold in its first month and high spots on the charts of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and other publications.

But both commercially and critically, Frazier’s second book — one of the year’s most anticipated novels — is no “Cold Mountain.”

“‘Cold Mountain’ was a phenomenon, and most authors don’t continue phenomenons book after book after book,” Random House Publishing Group spokeswoman Carol Schneider told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s very tough for a second book to equal a first that’s been a sensational best seller.”

Authors who didn’t match their sensational debuts include John Berendt (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) and Donna Tartt, who wrote the million-selling “The Secret History.”

Frazier received $8 million from Random House to publish “Thirteen Moons,” the follow-up to “Cold Mountain,” a million seller and winner nine years ago of the National Book Award that made a literary star out of an obscure North Carolina rancher and literature professor.

But Frazier received no National Book Award nomination this year and reviews have been mixed for “Thirteen Moons,” a deeply researched novel about a white man who finds a home among Cherokees. The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani praised Frazier’s writing, but thought the book’s central love story inferior to that of “Cold Mountain,” the story of a Civil War soldier’s return.

Claudia La Rocco of The Associated Press cited “surprising bursts” of life in the novel, but found that Frazier was “constantly overwriting.” Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post complained that the new book “reads more like a dutifully researched ... graduate school paper than a work of fiction.” Frazier’s novel, Yardley wrote, “is going to be putting a whole bunch of people to sleep.”

While “Cold Mountain” was a word-of-mouth success, steadily building sales over time, “Thirteen Moons,” which came out in early October, has worked in the opposite direction. According to Nielsen BookScan, it sold 41,000 copies in its first week, but dropped to less than 15,000 per week in early November.

Schneider said that Random House still anticipates a “long life” for the book, citing hopes for sales during the holiday season and noting that Hollywood producer Scott Rudin has acquired film rights. “Cold Mountain” was adapted into a 2003 movie, starring Nicole Kidman, that renewed interest in the book.

“Cold Mountain” was published by Grove/Atlantic, and Random House made headlines when it acquired Frazier’s second book, in 2002. The head of Random House at the time, Ann Godoff, was fired the following year, with the money paid for “Thirteen Moons” widely regarded as a factor.