Michelsen, G. F.
MICHELSEN, G. F.
Born in MA. Education: Studied African politics at London School of Economics.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, University Press of New England, 37 Lafayette St., Lebanon, NH 03766-1446.
To Sleep with Ghosts: A Novel of Africa, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Hard Bottom, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2001.
The Art and Practice of Explosion, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2003.
Contributor of articles to Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, and Harper's.
G. F. Michelson, a pseudonym, is known as an elegant prose artist and writer who can mix adventure and action with intricate social, political, and psychological analyses. The author's first novel, To Sleep with Ghosts: A Novel of Africa, is narrated by its protagonist, Samuel Kimbu. A former merchant marine officer, Kimbu finds himself serving as the assistant chief inspector of customs in the harbor of a nameless country in East Africa after being wrongly punished for a maritime accident. Kimbu, the son of an African storyteller, struggles to find meaning in a life where most of the natives are beset by poverty and Western imperialism threatens to annihilate both the areas indigenous social systems and their cultural beliefs. As Kimbu tells his story, he becomes involved with the CIA and a plot concerning the illegal dumping of European toxic waste. The intelligent Kimbu, who was educated in the United States, realizes that he is going to be the fall guy since there is no "chief" of customs. In the end, his story, like the stories of his father, is one of redemption.
Reviewers noted that To Sleep with Ghosts is filled with action and adventure but that it is also a political and social commentary. Atlantic Monthly contributor Phoebe-Lou Adams commented that while "Michelsen's political analysis is not new, … it could hardly be more eloquently and effectively translated into fiction." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commended the author for his descriptions of "local color and characters" but ultimately found that "the promising narrative peters out into a not-so-subtle-though-understandably-outraged-indictment of the usual villains." Washington Post Book World contributor John Coyne found the novel "compelling" and noted that the author has a "wonderful feel for the absurdities of modern Africa." Writing in Publishers Weekly, another reviewer found the "apocalyptic tale" intriguing and said, "In colorfully descriptive prose highlighted with humor, he portrays a complex clash of cultures and generations culminating in one man's political epiphany."
In his next book, Hard Bottom, Michelsen turns his attention to the increasingly hard lives of the small-time Cape Cod fisherman. Ollie Cahoon can see his livelihood slipping away as he begins floundering in competition with the larger fishing companies. As his debt increases and his marriage falls apart, Cahoon finds himself distanced from his young son and increasingly disliked by his own friends and neighbors. The locals are angry with him because he refuses to sell the water rights associated with a piece of inherited property so that a discount mall can be built that would bolster the economy by providing jobs to many of his out-of-work neighbors. As Cahoon's anger and frustration builds, the novel heads toward a series of climactic events involving the ocean, a storm, Cahoon's family, and the efforts to save his land.
A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that while the book has plenty of suspense, "It is his compassionate character study of a man who understands which way the wind is blowing but refuses to bend that enriches this simply plotted novel." Although a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book "too schematic to convince or engage," Amanda Morgan, writing in the National Fisherman, praised Hard Bottom for its wealth of information about fishing, nature, and the region's history and noted that the book is "peopled by lovable, flawed realistic characters." Booklist contributor Bonnie Johnston commented, "Michelsen's characters are vivid and down-to-earth; his prose is both potent and elegant; and his novel … is a multilayered story of destruction and rebirth that fuses the personal and the political."
Michelson continues to explore topical social and political issues with his third novel, The Art and Practice of Explosion. In this book three characters meet accidentally twelve years after being thrown together during a hostage crisis in a hotel in Central America. All part of the group of hostages that were held together for ten days, the three witnessed an act of betrayal that ultimately freed them. After meeting again, they decide to take a holiday to Alsace together and reminisce. It is during this trip that the multilayered story surrounding the terrorist incident unfolds in a series of flashbacks told from each character's point of view.
Commenting on the book on the University Press of New England Web site, Michelson noted, "The novel is concerned with the human jungle that not only promotes an initial seizing of hostages (the event which brought the three main characters together), but with the algorithm of psychological, political, cultural and other factors that lead to the second act of terror near the novel's end." Writing in Library Journal, David W. Henderson noted that the novel "explores how history, choice, and chance shape our lives and how we create our own stories in an attempt to make sense of it all." He also noted that the mystery and suspense involved in the story would attract many readers of these genres but that "it is, in the end, a rather sophisticated work best suited to serious readers." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the book's theme "of both the permanence and the elusiveness of what is past but not gone is also provocatively linked to the thought of medieval theologian John Duns Scotus." The reviewer felt the book is, "Initially forbidding, ultimately very rewarding indeed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, August, 1992, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of To Sleep with Ghosts: A Novel of Africa, p. 99.
Booklist, May 1, 2001, Bonnie Johnston, review of Hard Bottom, p. 1667.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1992, review of To Sleep with Ghosts, p. 632; May 1, 2001, review of Hard Bottom, p. 613; May 1, 2003, review of The Art and Practice of Explosion, p. 636.
Library Journal, July, 1992, Kenneth Mintz, review of To Sleep with Ghosts, p. 127; June 15, 2003, David W. Henderson, review of The Art and Practice of Explosion, p. 102.
National Fisherman, October, 2001, Amanda Morgan, review of Hard Bottom, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, May 18, 1992, review of To Sleep with Ghosts, p. 60; May 21, 2001, review of Hard Bottom, p. 79.
Washington Post Book World, August 9, 1992, John Coyne, review of To Sleep with Ghosts, p. 5.
University Press of New England Web site,http://www.upne.com/ (March 4, 2004), G. F. Michelsen, "G. F. Michelsen on Fiction in the Age of Terrorism.*"