Ward Just in the Second Pass

A piece I wrote about the two versions of Ward Just‘s story collection The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert is up at the Second Pass. Let’s look at a clip:

Just, before turning to fiction, covered Vietnam for the Washington Post and Newsweek, and writing for such establishment outlets naturally pitted him against the New Journalists who made splatter paintings out of facts. (The narrator of Just’s 1983 story “About Boston” dines with a newspaperman who says that “nouvelle cuisine reminded him of the nouveau journalism — a colorful plate, agreeably subtle, wonderfully presented with inspired combinations, and underdone. . . . A triumph of style over substance.”) The disclaimer, though, can also be read as a kind of endorsement of the New Journalism philosophy. If the facts have a way of misleading, as the last sentence says, then in these nine stories Just is attempting to better capture Washington through fiction. Dispensing with facts permitted him to talk openly about the town. If it was only as a journalist that he could speak truth to power, in this book he aspired to speak the truth about it.

To be an advocate for Just is to be a little lonely, excited over something that on the surface seems impossibly dry—I imagine it’s what being a fan of the Fall is like. Fact is, Just’s favorite characters are politicians and journalists, two relatively dull tribes of people. And he’s routinely refused to apply familiar stereotypes to either of them, making them seem more powerful (or more comfortable with their power) than they actually are. The second version of Flaubert is as good place to start as any, as is 1997’s Echo House or 2004’s An Unfinished Season, the first Just novel I read and the one that prompted me to dig deep into his bibliography.

2 thoughts on “Ward Just in the Second Pass

  1. The second version of Flaubert was indeed the first Just that I ever read, shortly before picking up An Unfinished Season. Though I enjoyed the former, I think his strength is much more with novels than stories. He has quickly become one of my favorite living writers. I really admire the way he takes a small story and tells it thoroughly and methodically, and extremely well.

  2. His book Forgetfulness is superb – informed by 9/11 but only obliquely. And right now, I am saving my pennies to buy his latest, Exiles in the Garden. I was at a used bookshop last week and stumbled onto one of his I had not heard of, Stinger, from early 1970s.
    Anyway, Just has been one of my favorite writers since I discovered him via Forgetfulness a coupla years ago.

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