[BOOK REVIEW]2 Micheners, but only 1 winner

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[BOOK REVIEW]2 Micheners, but only 1 winner

James A. Michener's "Alaska" and "Recessional" are different in format and quality. The bulk of Michener's books are extended fictional histories of geographic areas, such as Poland, Texas, Chesapeake Bay or Israel. "Alaska," published in 1988, is in this genre.

"Recessional," though, is a story of a Florida retirement center and the people who live and work there. It is one of Michener's last works, published in 1994 when he was 87.

Michener is a prolix writer, but in most of his books, including "Alaska," it is enjoyable to ramble with him. His story of Alaska from 13,000 years ago to the 1990s is compelling.

But in what could almost be a parody of Michener's wordy style, he introduces the Alaska gold rush by starting with the big bang 18 billion years ago to describe how gold got into the ground. He botched the process completely, asserting that the metal's presence in the earth's crust is the result of nuclear fusion in the planet's core. Fusion reactions are purely a stellar phenomenon, and it is odd that Michener would make such a serious error. But quibbles aside, this is a satisfying book in the Michener tradition.

"Recessional" is not. It appears that Michener had some things to get off his chest in his old age and when he did so, style and accuracy went out the window. The center is run by a disgraced Chicago obstetrician who is unfamiliar with AIDS; a large part of the book is a straw-man description of issues surrounding the right to die. Foreshadowing consists of describing a huge rattlesnake and telling us that it will feature later in the story; an erudite retired Colombian ambassador, a Catholic and resident at the center, has no clue about the church's basis for Marian veneration. Stilted, only mildly interesting and preachy, "Recessional" is not really worth the effort it takes to read it.

by John Hoog

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