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The Typist
by Michael Knight

Overview -

- Knight was awarded the 2005 John Grisham Fellowship for Emerging Southern Writers
- Knight's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, GQ, Esquire, Playboy, and Oxford American  Read more...


 
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More About The Typist by Michael Knight
 
 
 
Overview

- Knight was awarded the 2005 John Grisham Fellowship for Emerging Southern Writers
- Knight's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, GQ, Esquire, Playboy, and Oxford American

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780802119506
  • ISBN-10: 0802119506
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publish Date: August 2010
  • Page Count: 190


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 27.
  • Review Date: 2010-05-03
  • Reviewer: Staff

The curious latest from Knight (Divining Rod) follows American soldier Francis “Van” Vancleave as he weathers the trials of being a typist in Japan in the days after WWII. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, known here as Bunny, looms large and shows a surprising softer side when he invites Van to play with his school-age son to give the kid some perspective aside from the household help and his British tutor. Van’s Saturday play dates invariably involve re-enacting battle scenes with toy soldiers of historic military figures. Meanwhile, Van’s roommate is in a fiery love affair with a Japanese woman, and the strait-laced Van resists temptation even as he learns his wife back home is pregnant with another man’s child. Knight paints a disquietingly dreamlike portrait of a postwar Japan that harbors no animosity toward its American conquerors and where Hiroshima becomes a sightseeing destination and the site of an American football game. Not quite darkly comic, not quite ironic, Knight’s book is driven by earnest, unaffected storytelling, and the soft shocks it delivers render this a modest, entertaining story. (Aug.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Typing takes soldier into General MacArthur's inner circle

The Typist is a compelling meditation on how public events shape private lives. Packing sharp characterization and a rollercoaster plot into a brisk 200 pages, it is also a notable feat of literary economy.

Michael Knight’s protagonist is Francis “Van” Vancleave. Serving out his Army duty in post-World War II Tokyo, he is called to a meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, who has gotten the idea that Van is the fastest typist in Japan. Soon Van is not only personal secretary to Mac-Arthur, but also weekend playmate for his son.

Even as Van adjusts happily to this odd role, trouble is on the horizon. His roommate, a member of MacArthur’s personal Honor Guard, threatens Van’s tranquility by conducting shady business deals; meanwhile, Van is befuddled by bad news from home. He quietly grapples with these problems as his Army tenure draws to a close.

The events and people Knight takes as his subjects are monumental, but The Typist does not portray them that way. Instead of a mythological General MacArthur, we see a humble homebody who reads the newspaper in his slippers. Even when there is a purportedly historic event—the “Atom Bowl” football game in Hiroshima—Van takes his leave to attend to private matters.

Van himself has a sort of blank quality—appropriate for someone whose job is to mindlessly transcribe the thoughts of others. Even though he has typed his own story, he shows little sign of grasping the importance of what goes on around him. Events are in the saddle, and—until the end, at least—Van is just there to report the ride.

Some might complain that The Typist takes liberties with history. Yet it is no small thing to convince a reader to suspend disbelief about well-known events; Knight does so masterfully. And though readers might find themselves wishing he had delved more deeply into these characters, The Typist’s brevity—in which it refuses to draw out any one plot point—is a source of its power.

 
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