The desk is bare except for a well-thumbed dictionary, a picture of the novelist's wife and an old-fashioned gold watch with Roman numerals and a heavy lid. For five years the watch has lain open on the desk while its owner listened to its ticking and wrote steadily, using the same aging desk pen and yellow lined pads. Says Herman Wouk (pronounced woke) :
"I reported in to my boss, the desk, five or day." six Out days of a this week, at unflinching least six writing hours a stint came some of the U.S.'s most success ful fiction. Wouk's total output to date:
three plays, a movie and four novels, including The Caine Mutiny, the biggest U.S. bestseller since Gone With the Wind.
Last week the gold watch (brought to the U.S. from Russia 27 years ago by Novelist Wouk's grandfather) was shut and resting in the desk drawer. Novelist Wouk was taking his first vacation in nearly a decade from the job of writing "the loneliest job in the world." Wouk, a tall, darkly handsome man of 40, was relaxing at his ocean-front home on New York's Fire Island, trying to fix a 30-year-old reading lamp, lolling on the sand, teaching his five-year-old son how to float.
He was formidably calm about a D-day as unnerving as any faced by that old rust-bucket, U.S.S. Caine the publication this week of his latest novel, Marjorie Morningstar. Months ago, Fellow Author J. P. Marquand warned: "The critics will be waiting for you with meat cleavers the next time around."
Much to Live Down. Wouk knows that he will have to live up to The Caine Mutiny before he can ever live its fame down. The Caine's total sales figures to date are of heroic proportions: in all editions, some 3,000,000 Americans bought the novel; it sold more than 2,000,000 copies in Britain, and it has been translated into 17 foreign languages. The play based on the book, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, packed in Broadway theatergoers for two seasons and grossed about $2,500,000. The movie piled up a box office take of $12 million and is still going. Like many a giant industry, the Caine even spawned byproducts, e.g., the manufacture of "Queeg balls," modeled on the two steel bearings that the skipper of the Caine obsessively rolled in his left palm whenever his nerves were shaky.
To Herman Wouk himself, The Caine Mutiny brought the Pulitzer Prize (1951), nearly a million dollars in cash, countless autograph hunters (whom he loves), countless requests for speaking engagements (most of which he declines), and several thousand letters (all of which he answered). But to Novelist Wouk, a cool customer in a superheated profession, The Caine is simply "Novel No. 3" (No. 1 was Aurora Dawn; No. 2, City Boy), and he does not worry for an instant that Marjorie may be lost in the undertow of The Caine's popularity. This unique assurance is typical of Herman Wouk, a unique figure in American letters.