Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener (2014. Dial. ISBN 9780812986358)

When I began my first novel, The Legacy, it was originally written in alternating “past” and “present” chapters, a technique learned from reading Michener’s sprawling historical novels. Eventually, I determined that the style didn’t fit my writing and condensed all the “past” of the book into one section; all the “present” of the novel into another. For some reason, I objected, not as a reader by as a writer, to following Michener’s lead. Well, that was then. This is now. After thirty years of plowing the fields of words, laboring to put together eight novels and two collections of short stories (along with a memoir and a biography and a collection of essays), I recognize Michener as an influence on my writing who cannot be denied his due.

That said, after buying a copy of the author’s second short story collection set in the South Pacific, Return to Paradise at the Talk Story bookstore on Kaua’i (America’s most western bookstore) and enjoying the writing, I had to read the original collection. Finding myself once again in Kaua’i with friends, I picked up a copy, again at the little bookstore crammed with treasures on one of God’s gems. I’m glad I did.

Essentially a series of linked tales relating to the US’s involvement in the island-hopping strategy that won the war in the Pacific, Michener gives us semi-autobiographical sketches of whores and connivers and sailors and airmen and Aussies and New Zealanders and Brits and natives, often imbued with tragedy softened by humor. War, as has been depicted by masters of the pen from Tolstoy to Crane to Michener, contains moments of embarrassment and absurdity and folks being caught off-guard by circumstances and fortune. The author makes good use of his knowledge of such folly, as well as the scheme of the war in the Pacific, and the setting, to create a memorable read.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. A perfect selection for a men’s bookclub.

Peace.

Mark

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