four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
By: 
Ward Just
user_rating: 
0

A-Exiles in the GardenWard Just is an American novelist and short story writer. His novel, An Unfinished Season ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2004), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Exiles is his 16th novel.

The Story: When Washington, D.C., newspaper photographer Alec Malone forgoes a political career, his decision leads to an estrangement from his father, a powerful U.S. senator and FDR advisor. Alec also refuses a plum Vietnam War assignment on moral grounds and stands aside as his wife flees to Europe with another man, taking their young daughter with her. For decades, he lives a calm, orderly existence, avoiding conflict at all costs. But as his father lays dying, Alec reflects upon the turbulent lives of his father and ex-father-in-law (a former POW) and wonders, with no small amount of shame, if he has lived a worthy life.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 279 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780547195582

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Exiles in the Garden is a sober book, an adult book, but never a cynical one. Its structure works effortlessly, moving like the spiral of a spindle sea shell." Karen R. Long

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"What begins as a compelling but simple-seeming story spanning the years from the Vietnam War to 2007-and haunted by the living memory of World War II-takes on more and more meaning, until we aren't sure who the exiles are, what or where the garden is, how many facets there are in Just's prism. The novel is fascinatingly readable and at the same time deeper than we expect." Betsy Willeford

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Exiles in the Garden is Ward Just at his best. It is a serious and thoughtful book written with a page-turner's flair." Curt Schleier

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel threatens to reduce to a pat essay on the virtues of manliness. But in his own artful, sinuous way, Just conducts a larger, richer exploration of the insecurities of American-ness." Mark Athitakis

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Like most of the rest of Just's fiction, Exiles in the Garden is deceptively quiet. It moves at a leisurely, reflective, even pensive pace, but the reader never loses sight of an undercurrent of tension." Jonathan Yardley

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Just, who lives much of the time in France, writes perceptively about the contrast between European and American values. Best of all is the epigrammatic quality his writing achieves, which compensates for a fairly wan story, more retrospect than present action, and characters whose talk has more life than they do." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

Although several of his novels have been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Ward Just is relatively unknown to readers. It is a shame, critics note, because the former Washington journalist and Vietnam War correspondent is particularly adept at conveying the unique brand of narcissism and ruthless ambition seen in Washington, D.C., political circles. One exception to the bountiful praise came from the Los Angeles Times critic, who felt that the passive, one-dimensional characters and weak storyline hampered the narrative. Overall, however, critics hailed Exiles in the Garden as an understated and compassionate, but no less powerful, account of a man questioning his life choices.