Just, Ward 1935–
Just, an American, writes novels of politics. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)
[The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert and Other Washington Stories], modest though it is, constitutes perhaps the one intrinsically successful work of fiction about our capital city. It might, drably but accurately, have been called Government, a thought I offer only because I am anxious to see this book replace that old dog Democracy as the standard fictional text about Washington. If Democracy ever had anything going for it, besides the Adams name, it was only a certain sense of subject. Henry Adams was too perceptive a man not to know where the game was to be found, but he was not a novelist, and all he could really do with the game was locate it.
Ward Just has done more. There are only nine stories in the collection, but they are expertly spread and highly focused….
It is not easy to integrate a body of stories, which will have been written at various times, in varying moods, about a diversity of subjects. Just transcends this problem, and does it essentially through tone: the collection as a whole has an impact far greater than even the best of the stories would have, taken alone.
Indeed, it is the controlled, informed, but always impersonal tone of the prose which makes this book the triumph that it is. Many books have been written about Washington, some of them by fine writers. Many of them have been excellent in detail, but all of them have failed, it seems to me, to convey the ambiance of the city. I suspect these failures have something to do with the nature of political narrative itself, with its constant tendency to shade into melodrama. Yet the ambiance of Washington is not passion and melodrama; it is, first and last, control and impersonality. In these tones, or tones very like them, life is lived here, and decisions made, and a nation governed, more or less. Of course, high dramas occur and the passions that go with ambition come into play constantly, but the tones of these passions and dramas seem to vanish almost as they are uttered; they do not, I think, permeate the lives of the secretariat. The antecedent to the tone which Just has employed is the tone of the Michigan stories of Ernest Hemingway; applying it to Washington was a highly effective choice because it is the perfect tone with which to dramatize the kind of inhibitions of spirit which the bureaucratic life requires.
Larry McMurtry, "Just So Stories," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), July 22, 1973, p. 3.
Just is an admirer of Ernest Hemingway, and there is something of the tone of the early Hemingway stories in "The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert." The nine stories are polished, sophisticated, understated and possessed of near-perfect dialogue and absolute authenticity. Each fact stated suggests 10 facts known but unstated—Hemingway's tip-of-the-iceberg theory of writing. But the analogy should not be pushed too far, for Hemingway was drawn to external dramas—hunting, boxing, skiing, war—and Just writes of the more muted, internal dramas of political life. Hearts break in Just's stories, but no blood is shed….
Violence and sex are always offstage. A bloody coup in Africa is seen through the indifferent eyes of a desk-bound C.I.A. bureaucrat in Washington. The Vietnam war touches an ambitious Congressman only when a visiting schoolgirl whispers that her brother died there. A Vietnam war hero tries to explain to an interviewer what it was like to kill but can't find the words. Public men prove to be private men, their dramas as secret as cancer.
Patrick Anderson, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 26, 1973, p. 22.
To say that Stringer is one of the best novels to come out of Vietnam may seem a limited compliment, but at its best the book is very good indeed….
The novel deals with a number of themes, but chief among them seems to me the debilitating effect of...
(The entire section is 1,624 words.)