James A. Michener
Michener now shifts his fictionalizing, schoolmasterly talents to the contemporary world of book publishing, offering clear explanations of simple phenomena but grossly oversimplifying complex issues and people. His many fans, however, may well relish the 464-page book's lack of ambiguity and irony, or any disagreeable dissonances, as Michener tells his tale through the points of view in turn of an author, an editor, a critic, and a reader--decent folk all. The author here, an elderly Pennsylvania Dutchman--a steady, workmanlike writer who produces book after book about his native region--resembles Michener in his nose-to-the-grindstone worthiness. Michener also provides him with the opportunity for lectures on the differences between the Amish and the Mennonites and on the makings of scrapple and good German rice pudding. Meanwhile, the editor, through her love for a self-destructive writer who can't finish a book, shows the dangers of unbridled talent. The critic, a closeted gay college professor, despises the plodding author's work and represents an elitist view of the novelist's art. (Here, Michener makes room for a lengthy digression on who should get kudos and who should be cudgeled among English and American writers.) Finally, the reader, a wealthy widow of philanthropic bent, ties the threads together with her benign coda, which includes a neatly solved mystery and the resolution of the other major characters' fates. The chief locale is the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. It rings truer than the characters, who tend to talk alike in measured, overly formal words. As for simplifying issues, a brouhaha at a publishing house focuses on the new ownership being German, skirting the knottier problems of conglomerate control. Michener turns a big chunk of the book world into an easily digested stew only the undemanding will find nourishing or tasty.