four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
By: 
Ward Just
user_rating: 
0

A-ForgetfulnessThomas Railles, a well-known American expatriate painter, once did some insignificant work for the CIA. That connection may have led to the death of his beloved wife, Florette DuFour, at the hands of four Moroccan terrorists near the couple’s home in the Pyrenees. When Railles is invited to witness the interrogation of his wife’s killers in Le Havre, part of him wants revenge for her death. He soon realizes, however, that his dilemma has no satisfactory resolution and that "he lacked anger of the sort that swept all before it and became a cause in itself." Through digression and multiple points of view, Just fashions a compelling tale of a world where terrorism takes many forms.
Houghton Mifflin. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 0618634630

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Forgetfulness is a rich, complex book that puts us in the center of the current maelstrom, but does so in the context of an interesting, plot-driven story. … We need more novels like this, which critically examine the larger world and our role in it, both as Americans and individuals." Nancy Connors

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Just is particularly effective describing details: the way Railles sets ‘his shoulders against the raw wind,’ the wind coming off the ocean, the smell of the ‘wood smoke from the shops and apartment buildings.’ … Forgetfulness is a reminder of just how good he is." Curt Schleier

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"More a mediation on terrorism than thriller, the story is precisely written, its elegiac tone matching the novel’s deliberate pace. … The result is a complex world of hope and fear pervaded by irony." Rex Burns

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the large pleasures of this short, extremely thoughtful book is to watch the way Just, a master, sets up in a few pages the themes that are going to be with us for the duration." Tony Giardina

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The movement in [Just’s] stories is slight, but the forces at work are tremendous. … Just makes no easy declarations in this often arduously analytical novel." Ron Charles

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"While it raises profound questions about the purpose of revenge, Forgetfulness would have made a better novella. Both before and after Thomas’s crisis of conscience, the novel sags under too many digressions." Yvonne Zipp

Critical Summary

A well-respected—if generally underappreciated—writer for more than three decades, Ward Just, who began his writing career as a journalist for Newsweek and the Washington Post, evokes a strong sense of place and character in Forgetfulness, his fifteenth novel. Previous novels of his have been short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (see below). The story that Just tells here—thriller, psychological character study, social commentary—fills a gap in what critics see as a dearth of serious, nuanced fiction dealing with terrorism and related issues in the wake of 9/11. Just’s novel resonates with critics in a way that John Updike’s recent effort, Terrorist ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2006), did not.

Also by the Author

An Unfinished Season (2004): 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2004 Award Star Pulitzer Prize Finalist. Ward shows the gritty side of the 1950s in a Chicago defined by rabid anticommunism, worker unrest, and government corruption. By day, 19-year-old cub reporter Wils Ravan gets caught up in his father’s struggles with a union strike, and at night he attends ritzy North Shore parties.

Echo House (1997): Award Star National Book Award Finalist. This political novel explores three generations of a powerful Washington family.