Subway trains and other urban curses haunt the imagination of New York Observer reporter Jamaica JuSt as she slowly discovers what they symbolize for her and why, in this flawed but promising first novel by Wall Street Journal film-critic Salamon. ""Just"" is a surname adopted by Jamaica's Hungarian parents when they emigrated to America--via Auschwitz--in the late 1940's, but the name suits Jamaica's aspirations for herself as she grapples with dirt and gloom, cranks and criminals in pursuit of features for her New York City daily. Sincerity and intensity ooze from her; she dreams at night of characters glimpsed on the subway by day; she is tormented when the underprivileged subjects of her stories aren't pleased or helped by them. Then her effete oddball of a boss gives her two assignments that change her perspective and, incidentally, almost wreck her marriage to sweet, supportive architect Sammy: first, to describe being the child of Holocaust survivors, which lofts Jamaica's feelings of unworthiness and guilt from the clouded depths to the surface; and second, to interview the city's most chronic writers of letters to the editors of newspapers, which brings her into contact with a lonely man who knew her father in Hungary before the war. Pity for this man, nostalgia for an unrecoverable past, and stirrings of self-knowledge combine in Jamaica; the result will be, it seems, a stronger and more enduring sense of justice. What's nice about this novel is its attempt to take on matters of contemporary manners and morals and make original sense of them; what's not as nice are weak moments of glib urban humor and unresponsive clichÃ‰. The best parts make your hair stand up; that's enough.
Pub Date: Jan. 21, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Hill & Co.--dist. by Kampmann (9 East 40 St., New York, NY 10016)