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The Novel by James A. Michener
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The Novel (1991)

by James A. Michener

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James Michener the novelist, writes a novel about novel-making. This reality fiction suspense story takes place in the 20th century college campus and a rural barn village in real life Berks County. Many families are Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans). The publishing takes place with Jews and offshore corporations, where the editor is from New York City. Michener weaves accurate information about these locales into the story.

Lukas Yoder is a successful novelist writing what he believes will be his last book. He is also a painter -- with a folkloristic "Shunning", and "Hex series" -- as well. Then, he is utterly distracted by the fact that a violent tragedy takes place in the community. Interestingly, Yoder understands this as a chance to write "a new kind of fiction". [388,431] Show how the "stolid, unyielding ways of the Dutch could produce a murderer". [434] But he would marry the new skills -- action without explanations, realistic dialogue -- to the old craft of simple story-telling.

After the brutal murder, the literate grandmother tries to read her comforting literature, and "a frightening thing happened". She realized that the familiar lines of Longfellow no longer had the vitality and relevance they once had. She realizes she faces a prospect of seeing "better and better novels read by fewer and fewer people", herself included. [438] But Michener provides a return to the Writer in a quiet moment, as he answers the mail he receives from...readers.

This book is written in the voices of the four roles critical to fiction -- the writer, the editor, the critic, and the reader. We learn that a Professor Streibert, at the local Mecklenberg College, the "critic" in this book , writes a review which raises a storm among some of the readers. The readers include the President and members of the Board of the College. Great dialogues between women "who prefer books that can be read, against you and Streibert, who advocate books that nobody can read!" And the critic's student defender is ironically penning a new work with the title "DIALOGUE". Excerpts are provided.

The critic regales us with which four English writers can teach the "secrets of meaningful narration". [203] Which four classic English are "entertaining" but provide no substance. [204] And "who would you choose, and why?"

One of the most important perspectives a writer must understand is the drill which the critics--who genuinely believe novels are "treasure beyond compare". [220] (To understand this, it helps to have brilliant company on a whirlwind tour of Rome, through Venice and Greece, followed by a live performance of the Agamemnon trilogy--all of which are provided here.) It also reminded me of how much "civilization" owes to people who are gay.

A trifecta of "love" stories is woven into the suspense, providing additional tension in a subtle way -- subtle because well-developed characters are boldly projected outside of the expectations of small-town or college proprieties. The expert on literature, who has the most to teach us, is clearly fabulous but not ridiculous. I am trying to remember if Michener ever actually uses a label -- "gay".

Michener deals with loneliness -- the subject at the heart of Thomas Wolfe's neomodern bildungsroman, "Look Homeward, Angel". Michener sets the stage with various characters finding themselves lonely, as the Christmas season opens up for New Years' Eve. Older man/younger woman, visa versa. The long-term bond with a strong-willed woman which enabled the Writer to focus on his work. Excitement of dreams fulfilled. AIDs brings death but there is the peace of having been loved. A dear old widow helping young career-woman find romance. We find heart-break, and the joys of good companionship.

We even get a white-knuckle detailed account of investment bankers taking over a publishing house without the publishers actually knowing they were doing it. [330]

Nota bene--Michener is presciently spelling out how ten thousand writers can step up and investigate the way rich predators pirated the greatest hoard of wealth in the world in 2008. In the decade after this book was written, bankers securitizing worthless "investment products" removed $40 trillion from the American middle class. Remember the "Bonfire of Vanities" by the other "Wolfe" of Wall Street, Tom Wolfe? We did not "get it" did we! Michener even suggests some working titles -- "Murder of a Publisher", or "Assassination of an American Business", or "Kidnapping the Economy", or "Killing Kinko's" etc. So he tells us how to do it and we have a trillion-dollar crime to write about!

The critics' student defender is the reader's son. He is articulate and talented: "In a time of growing cultural darkness, men like Streibert--in Universities across the nation--are beginning to believe that the job of serious fiction is to maintain a dialogue of exalted meaning among the elite--the rare few who will be making the decisions that will keep society alive." [350] As Ezra Pound expounded, "Ignore the general public. They always follow false gods." And further, a kind of "blinding light" is cast on Pound's treason. [389]

Michener tells us about other novels and "stories" in world literature and about the craft of writing. You don't really understand the sharpness of the need for style in writing, until you read what goes on among the editors, critics, and readers. And the industry of publishing. "In our league it's not completed till it's published..." [381] Also about making pies -- bits of ham in lemon meringue. [383].

And in addition to authentic clipped dialect, much about the culture and belief-worship of the Mennonite and local community: "I was reminded that Christmas in America was essentially a German tradition and that only the Pennsylvania Dutch knew how to celebrate it properly." [430] An indictment of the empty materialist ritual of wrapping gifts made in China.

Michener reveals the "secret" of the Writer: "he became the people he wrote about, lived in their skins, suffered in their hearts, shared their mental confusion". [430] That is not a spoiler, you knew it already.

In the final chapters, a female book reader narrates from her journal the sad mystery of the events that brutalized the Pennsylvania Dutch community. A brilliant writer is murdered, with defensive wounds on his body. [394] His family seek to complete his unfinished novel. The circumstances in this community actually CALL for this novel to be written, and we are placed AT that call. The police have no clues. [405] But a close examination of a barn hex collected for Art, reveals a somewhat hidden gash--"frakture" -- that points to the murderer.

In a gentle ending we find exactly the launch point, and the mapping, and the absorption that is required behind The Novel. And...the love.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Michener died in 1997, a full decade before his beloved country and world were destroyed by the 2001-2009 economic plunder of criminal monopolists. He was one of the great liberals whose mighty shoulders built an exceptional civilization. More than a mere writer, he was teacher, investigator, and fighter for justice. Each of his 43 books stand as an ax-blow against tyranny, ignorance, and idiocy. His axe is never dull. ( )
  keylawk | Jan 16, 2014 |
there are interesting parts of this - i enjoyed seeing how a novel used to go from writer to editor and publisher and agent to press. i know it's totally different now, not 25 years later, but it was fun to see how it was done from someone who knows.

some of the character development was good, and the picture of that part of rural pennsylvania dutch country was good, if underdeveloped. a lot of the writing was good, but there was some that missed the mark for me. the dialogue at the opening of the book turned me off, and much of the dialogue throughout was unrealistic. he did a good job of effectively having the four different narrators be easily distinguishable in their style and point of view.

it's a decent book, a relatively fun read, with some mistakes. not vintage michener, though.

"...for a book comes to life not on the date it was published in New York, but on the happy day when it falls into the hands of a reader..." ( )
  elisa.saphier | Jun 12, 2013 |
This is average Michener, but still worthwhile. About a writer's life, which he knew well. I should reread it myself now that I am more active as an author. ( )
  BryanThomasS | Nov 7, 2011 |
I enjoy writers writing about writing. This is a good example. It's not deathless prose, and it's not meant to be. It's an entertaining read. ( )
  labwriter | Jan 27, 2010 |
I enjoy the world of writing and publishing, at least fictionally. I also like James Michener. A lot of detail, but not Tom Clancy heavy on detail. Usually better characters. The characters were ok, the action of the novel is saved for the end. This felt more like an exercise in writing, getting lots of angles on the same events, and carrying the story back and forth in different characters. Michener did a servicable job of giving his 4 (!) narrators distinct voices. Nothing mind blowing for the fan. If you don't like Michener, or don't like books about writing, don't read this. ( )
  benjclark | Jul 14, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0449221431, Mass Market Paperback)

"A good, old-fashioned, sink-your-teeth-into-it story...Suspenseful."
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
James Michener turns the creation and publication of a novel into an extroardinary and exciting experience as he renders believable the intriguing personalities who are the parents to its birth: a writer, editor, critic, and reader are locked in the desperate scenario of life, death, love, and truth. As immediate as today's headlines, as close as the bookshelves, THE NOVEL is a fascinating look into the glamorous world of the writer.
Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:33 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Writer Lucas Yoder, editor Shirley Marmelstein, critic and would-be author Karl Streibert, and reader Jane Garland, who treasures the written word, play key roles in a study of the people who create, publish, critique, and enjoy books.

» see all 2 descriptions

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