The Novel: A Novel

The Novel: A Novel

by James A. Michener, Steve Berry

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In this riveting, ambitious novel from James A. Michener, the renowned chronicler of epic history turns his extraordinary imagination to a world he knew better than anyone: the world of books. Lukas Yoder, a novelist who has enjoyed a long, successful career, has finished what he believes to be his final work. Then a tragedy strikes in his community, and he becomes obsessed with writing about it. Meanwhile, Yoder’s editor fights to preserve her integrity—and her author—as her firm becomes the target of a corporate takeover; a local critic who teaches literature struggles with his ambitions and with his feelings about Yoder’s success; and a devoted reader holds the key to solving the mystery that haunts Yoder’s hometown.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from James A. Michener's Hawaii.
Praise for The Novel
“Michener explores some of the deepest issues raised by narrative literature.”The New York Times
“A good, old-fashioned, sink-your-teeth-into-it story . . . The Novel lets us see an unfamiliar side of the author, at the same time portraying the delicate, complex relationship among editors, agents and writers.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Michener loves literature, and his information about some of his favorite reading is almost as alluring as his explanation of how to handle a manuscript.”—Associated Press
“So absorbing you simply will not want [it] to end.”—Charleston News & Courier

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804151559
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/18/2014
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 11,750
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1907

Date of Death:

October 16, 1997

Place of Death:

Austin, Texas


B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.

Read an Excerpt

This Tuesday morning, 3 October 1990, at half after ten, I typed the last sentence of the novel that will complete what the critics have taken to calling “The Grenzler Octet,” as if I had planned from the beginning to write eight interrelated books on the same theme. No, that came about by accident.
In 1967, when I was forty-four, I imagined a compact little enclave in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, sixteen miles east to west, ten and a half north to south, tucked in between the three well-known German cities of Allentown, on the north, Reading, on the west, and Lancaster, on the south. It was such a well-defined area and so filled with fascinating rural people who adhered to ancient German ways and speech that, after defining it rather solidly in my first novel, I made use of it in the works that followed. I gave it a made-up regional name, Grenzler, and visualized myself as living within its boundaries, so that by the time I started this book, which I’m calling Stone Walls to evoke the obdurate nature of my beloved Dutchmen and their relationship to their land, I could imagine writing about no other part of the world, or of the United States or even Pennsylvania. As so often happens with writers, my imaginary terrain had become more real to me than the physical one that surrounded me.
Patting the completed manuscript as if to give it my final approval, I left my study, came downstairs to the kitchen, and shouted the great news: “Emma! It’s finished! Now we can start living again.”
My wife could not quite echo my enthusiasm, for she remembered the drudgery that had been required to polish my seven previous novels: “I know what lies ahead. It’s October 1990. We’ll have a year of clean-up work—suggestions from New York, revisions, then proofreading—maybe a printed book this time next year. October 1991.”
But she did not wish to dampen my triumph, so with a bright smile she pointed to her oven, from which came one of those unequaled smells that make a Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen a hallowed place. It could have come from the making of apple butter, or the concocting of rich mincemeat or the baking of a pumpkin pie with nutmeg; this particular one was in my opinion the best of all: the tantalizing smell of rice pudding baked in the traditional Dutch way.
Opening the front door of her oven and using heavy woolen mittens, Emma drew out a handsome German cooking bowl of heavy brown ware, fourteen inches across and six inches high, flared at the top, so the sides were not perpendicular. In it she had prepared one of the glories of Dutch cooking, golden brown on top, speckled with raisins beneath the crustlike surface.
An Emma Yoder rice pudding was not one of those characterless affairs made with rice already boiled and a milky-thin custard with no raisins but maybe a little bit of cinnamon on top. For her no boiling but baking only, and that took time, plus careful attention as the pudding neared completion. That was why the container in which she baked it had to be much deeper than one might have expected, for after the hard grains of rice had cooked slowly for several hours until soft, and the raisins had been thrown in, and then the cinnamon, real cooking began, and at ten- or fifteen-minute intervals a beautiful brown crust would cover the top, the color coming from caramelized sugar in the mix. Then, with a long-handled spoon she would stir the forming crust back into the pudding, so that in time this tasty amber richness was mixed visibly throughout the entire pudding.
The art of making a true German rice pudding lies in starting with the right proportions of uncooked rice and rich milk; at the beginning it looks very watery, but as it bakes and the excess liquid vanishes in steam, the milk, eggs and sugar combine magically into one of the choicest custards of all cuisines. But what makes the German pudding so wondrous to the taste is the intermixing of caramelized crust and the raisins into the custard. A union like that does not happen accidentally.
“Make open the refrigerator,” she directed, falling back on a Pennsylvania Dutch idiom of her childhood, even though she had taught English in nearby Souderton during much of our married life.
“All right yet,” I said, mimicking her, but before she placed the pudding inside to be cooled she filled two small cups with the steaming richness; these she and I would eat as part of a ritual we had honored since the completion of my first novel decades ago. As we sat in our colorful kitchen—where we seemed to spend most of our lives—waiting for our feast to cool, she asked: “Will the editing be easier this time?” and I said: “Harder. As you grow older you have more to lose.”
“Were you serious when you said this might be your last one?”
“Positively. I wouldn’t have the energy for another big one…nor the courage.”
Aware that these were moments of special meaning, she stopped behind my chair and placed her hand on my shoulder: “Eight novels. First four so poorly received. Last four such triumphs.”
“Hold everything. I have serious doubts about this one.”
She sniffed: “With your track record?”
“A writer’s only as good as his next one. And I’m a bit uncertain about this one.”
“Is it so different? From your last three winners?”
“Yes. This time there’re no personal antagonisms, as with the suspender men in Shunning, and no Pennsylvania Dutch mysticism, as in Hex.”
“You’re turning your back on what made those books so popular? Is that wise?”
“I’ve pondered it a long time and I’m sure it’s wise. This book’s about the Grenzler land and how we Dutch cheat ourselves if we either abuse it or stray too far from it by breaking down our historic stone fence lines, our barn walls.”
“The ecology kick? Are you sure your readers are ready for it?”
“It’s my job to make them ready.”
“Good luck, Roger Tory Peterson.”
It might seem strange to an outsider that I could be so far along in the writing of a manuscript without my wife’s knowing much about it, but in our family we followed a strict tradition. I wrote my books alone, telling no one, not even my editors, what the subject of the next novel was. So Emma never knew until it was completed: “I’ll lend you my copy after I take Zollicoffer his, and mail a copy off to Kinetic Press in New York.”
“Sight unseen, I predict it’ll be a smasheroo.”
“I like your elegant vocabulary.”
Gently she pressed my shoulder as she took her chair: “When you teach high school kids, you adopt their vocabulary or they tune you out.” I said that I had supposed it was the teacher’s job to impose her vocabulary on the class and she laughed: “You really are from another generation.”
As we waited for the pudding to cool, I realized again how passionately I loved this little Dutch woman—she five feet two, I five five—for in the bad years when I could sell nothing I wrote she had enabled me to continue by teaching school in Souderton, and after each of the first four disasters she had said: “Lukas, you’re a real writer and that’s a fine book. Sooner or later America has to realize it.” She had never wavered in her determination to support me during those years, and her words had been as important to me as the modest income she provided from her teaching, because she was a graduate of Bryn Mawr, one of our best women’s colleges, and she knew what good books were. Sometimes when I worked alone in my study while she labored in her classroom, tears would come to my eyes, for I knew that she had wanted to pursue some career more glamorous and demanding than teaching in a rural high school, but she never uttered one word of complaint. She had given herself the job of keeping me alive so that I could write my books, and without complaining she had hewn to that line.
I have become impatient in recent years when I read of a sickness that seems to be infecting the young medical doctors of this nation. Before entering medical school, a would-be doctor marries a young nurse who will earn a small salary and support him till he gets started in his profession. Then, when the money starts rolling in and he finds himself at the center of his community’s social life, he awakens to the fact that his wife is merely a country girl with no advanced education who does not do him justice in his new position. So he divorces her, shares none of his wealth with her, and replaces her with a younger and better-educated wife, with whom he can dominate the country club set.
“Emma did exactly what the young nurses do: she enabled me to learn the skills of writing. Also, she was a better person than I in almost every respect. She went to a much better college—I attended the nearby Dutch school, Mecklenberg, which is a fine little college but no Bryn Mawr—and she had far greater inner courage and determination. Made of rose petals and granite, she kept us alive.
In a significant way, Emma had engineered the miraculous change in our lives, for when my fourth novel earned virtually nothing—certainly not enough for us to live on—she cried: “Lukas, we’re hexed.” I remember growling: “You don’t believe in that hex nonsense,” and I added: “Our Dutch do themselves damage believing in witches and hexes—painting their barns with mystic signs to keep away devils,” and a spirited argument followed.

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