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Jack Gance Analysis

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The protagonist is the descendant of generations of uncompromising Chicago Republicans, a family which made its wealth through questionable means. After his own father is sent to prison for defiantly evading income taxes, Gance chooses a safe career within the system. Gance is a cautious young man.

His name itself is a compromise--Jackeson, for his mother’s family, and Gance, for his father’s. It is characteristic of Gance that he has refused to commit himself to a permanent love relationship, preferring instead a series of affairs with married women. His near-heroic attempt to be his own man comes to nothing when he finally sells out completely to the machine to become a United States senator in the pocket of a wealthy man. Still, Ward Just somehow manages to make Gance a sympathetic character.

The plot of JACK GANCE is engrossing. Just brings the characters to life with lean, fast-moving prose. This is a thoughtful book of complex issues, a realist’s work of fiction in which the world is not merely black and white, but many shades of gray. In taking this realistic approach to fiction, Just creates an antihero for the 1980’s--a man who rejects idealism for practicality.

The author obviously knows the political terrain of Chicago and of Washington well and renders them vividly. He shows how the quality of loyalty becomes perverted in the political arena, and how “diplomacy” becomes another term for selling out.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXV, January 15, 1989, p.835.

The Christian Science Monitor. January 4, 1989, p.13.

Kirkus Reviews. LVI, November 15, 1988, p.1630.

Library Journal. CXIV, January, 1989, p.102.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 15, 1989, p.2.

The New York Review of Books. XXXVI, June 15, 1989, p.12.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIV, January 1, 1989, p.1.

Newsweek. CXIII, January 16, 1989, p.57.

Publishers Weekly CCXXXIV, November 18, 1988, p.64.

The Washington Post Book World. XIX, January 29, 1989, p.3.

Jack Gance

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

Most journalists who switch from reportage to fiction write romans a clef emphasizing plot and details, based upon their inside knowledge of whatever subjects they have covered. Ward Just, despite occasional weak characterization and excessive reliance on detail early in his career, has been a notable exception. The former reporter for Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post has concentrated on ideas and psychological insight into his characters in the eight novels and two collections of short stories he has published since 1970. Just’s major subjects are the press, politics, and war, particularly all three during the Vietnam era. Just has written often about politicians and bureaucrats in Washington in such works as The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert and Other Washington Stories (1973) and In the City of Fear (1982). Half of Jack Gance deals with how the nation’s capital has changed from the early days of the Kennedy Administration to the present, and the other half shows changes in Chicago politics since the 1950’s. The ambiguities of modern American politics are captured in the title character, who manages to be idealistic, pragmatic, and cynical all at once.

Just portrays the public and inner lives of Jack Gance from his boyhood during World War II to his election as a United States senator in the 1980’s. Jack’s relations with his family, lovers, and political associates are depicted as he progresses from being a University of Chicago student in the 1950’s to working as a pollster for Chicago’s city hall machine during the 1960 Presidential campaign to serving on the staff of a congressman to holding a post during a presidential administration in the 1970’s to being a political consultant to running for and winning a senate seat. Jack emerges as a complex personality who understands the political process much better than he does people. Just presents Jack’s life and career in terms of his relations with a handful of people, the two places, Chicago and Washington, that help shape his...

(The entire section is 2,584 words.)