Ward S(wift) Just Jonathan Yardley - Essay

Jonathan Yardley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The prevailing subjects in Ward Just's fiction … are politics, war and, more recently, the Middle West. His view of all three is bleak and ironic, yet it is tempered by affection: Mr. Just genuinely likes politicians, understands the appeal of warfare and loves his native Middle West … even as he despairs of what has happened to it. Thus his fiction has an ambigious quality that is most effective, providing as it does an underlying tension and an appreciation of complexity.

"Honor, Power, Riches, Fame, and the Love of Women" is a collection of six stories, two of them rather long, the others little more than extended vignettes. All are fine, for the simple reason that Mr. Just is a fine stylist. He is clearly an admirer of Henry James, whose novels are likely to be found on the bookshelves of his characters, and he writes in a leisurely, reflective manner that is faintly reminiscent of James.

All of these stories deal, directly or indirectly, with relations between men and women in times of stress. The four shorter pieces are "war stories," exploring from different angles the fragility of such relationships in the unreal circumstances of war—the Vietnam War, as it happens, though it is not specifically mentioned. (p. 13)

Mr. Just hands out no victories, offers no moral judgments. He understands that people respond to stress in different ways, and he is content merely to observe them, sketching their twists and turns for our consideration. Some of his best work is in this collection, which I read with unwavering admiration. (p. 34)

Jonathan Yardley, "People in Stress," in New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 9, 1979, pp. 13, 34.