Kirk's Reviews > The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
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Jan 18, 2009

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I can still remember the edition of this that---somehow---I had in my room as a child. It was a hardback, dense type, the occasional woodcut, thin pages, tightly bound, and it smelled like it had been mouldering under somebody's bed since Martin Van Buren ass-ended to the presidency. Back then I couldn't for the life of me get past the first chapter. The syntax was so knotty (ie. Latinate) that I might have compared it to autoerotic asphyxiation if I'd known such a thing existed (autoeroticism, that is--not asphyxiation). In fact, I hope it doesn't expose my secret propensity for lace panties and Angora sweaters to say that at ten I much preferred Little Women. Yes, I loved Cooper's title bc I didn't know what the hell it meant, and I debated the pretension one might be susceptible to if made to tote the name 'Fenimore' through life. Decades later I can say that life for me boils down to a choice: some books you love because they are you writ in picas, and others you teach. This one falls into the later category.

Personal bullshit aside, there's so much here that's so historically important that LaMo as well call it in my neighborhood call it by necessity becomes worthy of reading time. For starters, landscape. The book is capacious, to use one of Cooper's marble-mouthed words. It conveys the scopic magnitude of the New World. The prowess of setting is particularly important when you realize that by the 1820s---a mere fifty years after the country's founding---nature was already a touchstone of nostalgia and Cooper was depicting us as having milked dry the natural resources of this fresh green breast of the new world. Second, the Native Americans. You don't read Cooper for the verysmellytude of ethnicity. Go see Dances with Wolves for that. (Better yet A Man Called Horse). But you do see in the ridiculously wooden me-likum-you-pale-face cigar-store depiction of Chingachgook and Uncas a sincere desire to elevate the NA warrior, Greek epic style, into a symbol of Lost America---again, poignant given that the Trail of Tears was taking place in this same era. Cooper thus helps make the Vanishing Indian a personfication of American guilt, a spokesman for the jeremiad. Finally, chicks, man: in Cora and Alice, you have here the prototypes for the Dark Lady and Light Lady that will play their sista act out in American fiction all the way through Pierre and The Blithedale Romance on up to every bad Sarah Jessica Parker/Rachel McAdams romantic purported comedy not starring Matthew McConaughey. Why divide feminity into innocent blondes and dirty brunettes? To quote the title of my least favorite Pink CD, must be Mizzacegenation, the anxiety that ravenheads have to be born out of those dalliances on the dark side that even British generals are prone to when the colored girls go do-da-do, doo, doo, dootey-dootey-doo, doo, doo, doo, etc. It's a literary obligation in the 19th century bc Cooper and his peers knew, deep down, that nobody short of Edgar or Johnny Winter was truly white enough.

Yes, at some point long about Book II, the formula of kidnap/rescue/ bring-a-tomahawk-to-a-gunfight gets tedious. And you are likely to throw the book across the room at the more silly assertions of Natty Bumppo and Chingy's ability to blend with the animals. The scene in which the latter, the father of the Mohicans' last, dresses up as a beaver (!!!!!!!!) to get the scoop on the alien tribe's war plans has to be the single hardest scene in American literature to teach without regressing to an eight year-old. It absolutely kills the seriousness of the book---at least until the glorious last chapter, when suddenly Cooper's marvelous ability to lament takes over, and you read a threnody for fallen America that ranks up there with the final paragraph of Gatsby.

So, enjoy, but be prepared to chew through the fat of preposterousness to the gristle of import. None of Cooper's other books save The Pioneers can really touch this one in terms of melancholy. And the melancholy of loss is what makes it great.
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Finished Reading
January 18, 2009 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 18, 2009 12:35PM) (new)

Oh man, I read some random books that my parents had when I was a kid. We didn't own many books--we used the library--so the ones we did own were studied so closely over the years. We didn't have this one, but I remember reading "Jubal Sackett," "Clan of the Cave Bear," "This Present Darkness" and many others just because they were there.

I remember our dictionary the best. I can recall the texture of the cover and the smell when you opened it just perfectly.


message 2: by Mister Jones (last edited Jan 18, 2009 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mister Jones Great review; makes me reconsider my merciless trashing of this novel, and even better, makes me once again attempt to read it better. If that isn't the hallmark of a great review, I don't know what one is.


Kirk Thanks, Mister Jones. Your review was great as well, merciless trashing or not. It's hard as hell to get through the damn book.

Montambo, we had Clan of the Cave Bear in my house too. Plus lots of Harold Robbins. That stuff was freaky at 13.


message 4: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Great review. I read LaMo as a kid and loved it. (Going then through a Dumas phase as well - sometimes I long for a return to some of that innocence.) Your review brought a new perspective.


message 5: by Jacquelyn (new) - added it

Jacquelyn Great review. It cracked me up. I have to read LaMo for class.


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