Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Novel by James A. Michener

I love James Michener... and his books are just as good (if not better) as re-reads.  I needed a change of pace from all the sentimental church library fare I'd been consuming and decided to take a break with "The Novel" for a while.   The novel reads like four intersecting short stories told by different narrators through overlapping time frames. 

1- the Writer, Lukas Yoder, a simple, hardworking man at the end of his career who writes his final novel about his beloved Pennsylvania Dutch immigrant farm community.  You gotta admire Yoder's work ethic and tenacity, but can't help but feel that his books might be a bit dull to read.
2- the Editor, Yvonne Marmell, who fights to publish Yoder's books, even when the first 4 of 8 barely sell.  She has a fascinating back story and it's easy to love her pluck.
3- the Critic, Karl Striebert, who criticizes Yoder's books, and later publishes his own scholarly writings with Marmell.  Stieberts back story is a bit creepy (including an affair with a much older man) but he is clearly fiercely intelligent, and you keep hoping Marmell can get him in line.
4- the Reader, Jane Garland, who is Yoder's biggest fan, becomes a close friend to Marmell, and is the grandmother to Striebert's most famous writer student, Timothy.  All four stories connect with her.

Despite these strong, well-developed characters, The Novel is really about writing: what makes a good novel, how do you know when you've found a good novel, what needs to be done to a novel before it goes out into the world, who should novels be written for and why should we read them.  "The Novel" is written in such a multi-layered way that you can't help but to walk away thinking about novels... and why we can't resist them.  :-)

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