Book review: ‘The Novel’ by James Michener

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

James Michener was a prolific author, writing at least 40 books. Most of these were professionally researched, fictional, historical accounts of several generations of a family, or as with this novel, a fictional examination of a specific topic. The stories are interesting and the plots well developed. The reader becomes involved and is seldom sure of how the story will end. Because they are so professionally researched, there is a great deal of learning available regarding the topic at hand.

“The Novel” was published in 1991. While its age shows (floppy disks), the novel’s theme concerns the development of the novel, novel writing and publishing. It stands up well for the current reader. The theme is developed in a story about an aging, successful author of Amish-based books. Lucas Yoder is working on the final book in the series and perhaps his final book. We get his perspective and that of his editor, a critic, and a reader. Has Yoder’s fiction become dated? The critic thinks so. His editor appreciates what he does in part because Lucas’s success gives her leverage with the publisher and the opportunity to work with young writers.

Karl Streibert, the critic, believes that the Lucas novels have little literary worth; sales do not determine the value of the writing. He teaches that real literature is art. “The artist must always be somewhat opposed to society — against received knowledge.” Lucas instead describes a particular society in entertaining manner.

As stated above, his editor, Yvonne Marmelle, benefited greatly from Lucas. As a skilled editor, she was in large part responsible for the end product and thus the success. This made her a sought-after person in the publishing world; that was doubly important, as publishers were beginning to consolidate. No matter what happened, she and her valuable stable of writers would be in demand.

Much of the story revolves around the Grenzler region of Pennsylvania. The reader described makes her home in that area. Jane Garland, the rich widow of a steel manufacturer, is an avid reader, supporter of writers and writing schools, and an astute judge of the written word. Not coincidentally, Yoder is a favorite writer because he captures the area and its people so well. The story takes a dark turn when her grandson, a young writer of great promise, is viciously murdered. The original conflict regarding fiction remains unsolved, and now there is a murder to deal with.

If you’ve had a novel in you and haven’t written it yet, read “The Novel” and see what you’ve missed. If you’re interested in the novel as an art form, read “The Novel.” If you want to experience an engaging story, read Michener’s “The Novel.”

Addendum: For a timely read, choose John Dickerson’s “The Hardest Job in the World.” Not surprisingly, it’s the U.S. Presidency. He illustrates using examples of many of our past presidents and suggests possible ways to make the job more realistic. He even goes a long way towards explaining former President Trump.

 

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