In my view, there’s no contest between the two: Edna Ferber and Herman Wouk. Edna wins, hands down.
A friend of mine recommended Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke. I tried to like it; I really did. I slogged through pages and pages of description, and not a whole lot of action. Never once did I say to myself, Dang! That’s a really good line. Instead, I thought, This HAS to get better. He’s a famous author.
Then I got to page thirty-nine, and that’s what did me in. I literally had to stop reading in order to COUNT the number of words in a particularly long sentence. There were one-hundred-twenty-two words in one sentence. You read that right: 122 words in a single sentence.
Now, if you ask me, any narrative that makes the reader stop reading in order to count the words in a sentence is not well-written. In fact, anything that does not move the story forward, but instead brings it to a screeching halt, is not good writing.
Therefore, Youngblood Hawke will go back to the library.
At the same visit, I got a book that contains five novels by Edna Ferber: So Big, Show Boat, Cimarron, Saratoga Trunk, and Giant. I’m currently reading So Big. I read Show Boat some years ago, but I’ll read it again.
This is good writing. Yes, there is plenty of description, but it’s description that moves the story along, paints a picture, gives the reader a sense of place and purpose and atmosphere. I often pause just long enough to think, Dang! That’s a good line! then press forward, lest I miss anything.
I’d been an Edna Ferber fan a long time ago, but I’d forgotten all about her. Then I got a few free Ferber novels for my Kindle, and fell in love with the written word all over again.
So, today, even though I should be working on my own novel, or proofreading a story for a client, I’m actually blissfully sitting in my recliner, with my faithful dog at my side, sipping a cold drink, and reading. Now, this, my friends, is pure joy.