In Print : Ward Just on writing, and his new book
"Exiles in the Garden," by Ward Just. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, 279 pp, $25.
Ward Just's 16th novel, "Exiles in the Garden," continues the West Tisbury resident's explorations into the nature of man as political animal. The former Pulitzer Prize finalist (for "An Unfinished Season") has written a book of ideas, a book of atmosphere and mood that focuses on people in situations that we all might find ourselves experiencing. It is about the complexities of personal relationships and the inevitable influence of the realities of our social/political world, our own zeitgeist.
His tale incorporates the political ambiance of Washington during the Roosevelt years through the administration of John F. Kennedy. His knowledge of the time is fed by his experience as a reporter for Newsweek and The Washington Post, both in Washington and covering the Vietnam War.
It is a story about the road not taken as much as it is about the difficulty of finding a meaningful path through our lives. A senator's son, Alec Malone, chooses to become a photographer rather than following his father's path. The author begins with the overhearing of political exiles conversing in a multitude of languages, in a neighboring garden in Washington, D.C. By the end of the story it seems that we all may be the true exiles in our own gardens.
Ward Just is a compassionate man and a thoughtful writer. He has written a profoundly moving and thought-provoking book. The following is excerpted from an interview with Mr. Just about his new novel.
"The original title was "Still-Life" or "Still Life." Normally I am resistant to change, [but] "Exiles" was suggested and I realized everybody in the book is exiled in some way. I was also interested in someone who grows up in Washington and declines to participate in the culture. I always write about these dislocated people who can't quite find their niche.
"The kinds of facts in this book are the facts that are already in my memory, the atmosphere of the Roosevelt years, particularly the atmosphere of the Kennedy administration. I was in Washington for that. I have almost total recall of the way things looked and the way people talked to each other and the language that they used, the background of stuff. That I remember very well. It's about living with your past, living with your nation's past, your present and your nation's present. It's one of the things that's interesting and approaches fun, writing about Washington.