Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Michael Knight, _The Typist_

THIS IS THE first work by Michael Knight I have read, and I enjoyed it--a short, deft novel set in occupied Japan. A historical novel, then, but with its focal point just off the center of events. Francis Vancleave, the typist of the title, does occasional jobs for General MacArthur but spends more time as the faute-de-mieux playmate for MacArthur's son, so whatever future-shaping nation-building MacArthur is accomplishing occurs just out of view.

Similarly, the involvement of Vancleave's roommate, Clifford Price, with a Japanese dance-hall girl leads to his involvement with the Japanese far left and a gun-running scheme, an imbroglio that leads to his dying in a suicide pact, but that sensational affair likewise occurs on the periphery of the story's vision, without Vancleave's being much aware of what is going on until everything is over.

It's a different kind of historical novel, obviously.

Vancleave does not have the momentous impact on Japan that MacArthur does, nor does Japan have the momentous impact upon him that it has on Price, but the effectiveness of the novel lies in our feeling that nonetheless, something important has happened to him. His friendship with MacArthur's son, contrivance though it is, achieves something genuine, and somehow Vancleave is able to work through the gut-sinking news that his hastily-wed war bride is pregnant with another man's child and, at novel's end, arrive at a reconciliation.

Quiet, subtle, walking a line between melancholy and affirmation... I had the feeling that, like Paul Harding's  Tinkers, this could catch on in a large way if it found the right readers.

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