Wednesday, November 10, 2010

UT prof's new novel gets high marks


Not bad, is it, for a writer to be compared to Walker Percy and F. Scott Fitzgerald?

UT creative writing professor Michael Knight has been mentioned favorably in the same breath with those literary lights. Read his new novel, "The Typist," over the course of an evening. Calm. Concise. Cool.

The story is set in Tokyo during the American occupation of Japan after World War II. The main character is a kid from Alabama who is assigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff as a typist.

Knight says the idea for the novel first came to him after reading a newspaper article about a football game that was played at Nagasaki a few years after an atomic bomb was dropped there in August 1945.

“But I couldn’t get in touch with the character, I didn’t understand what the story was supposed to be,” Knight says.

So, he put it away to work on short stories. While signing books in Gainesville, Fla., Knight met a man who told him he was a typist under MacArthur’s command in Japan following the war.

“And I realized it’s a much more personalized story,” Knight says, “which I hope is sort of a coming of age story.”

Knight says he read several biographies on MacArthur while researching the book and was delighted to discover that one of the general’s nicknames was “Bunny.” Big Mac makes guest appearances in the book as Knight has his main character become a babysitter for MacArthur’s son, Arthur.

Publishers Weekly says that “The Typist” is “not quite darkly comic, not quite ironic … driven by earnest, unaffected storytelling and the soft shocks it delivers render this a modest, entertaining story.”

I concur. It was a nice shift from Pat Conroy's pyrotechnics and it even made me want to dig out my copy of William Manchester's MacArthur bio "American Caesar" once I finish James Kaplan's fantastic new book on Frank Sinatra.

Knight won't knock your socks off, but he charms you with his cogent, quiet style and superb storytelling. It's great company for a cold winter's night by the fire.

“The Typist” is available from Amazon.com, other book outlets and through the Knox County Public Library. The New York Times review can be found here.

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