ECHO HOUSE by Ward Just


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 The 12th novel by the former journalist and Washington insider whose savvy analyses of power politics and related human imbroglios include Stringer (1974) and The American Ambassador (1987). The mansion the title denotes is both home and showplace for three generations of the Behl family, Washington power brokers whose careers are enhanced and personal lives compromised by their talents for working behind the scenes and keeping secrets. In the 1930s, Senator Adolph Behl is seemingly promised, then denied, a vice-presidential nomination. His son Axel, made craftier by observing his father's misfortune, carries for most of his life the burdens of grievous injury and romantic fixation experienced in wartime, and ``[operating] quietly as a fixer without portfolio'' so successfully that he's later credited with having ``won the Cold War singlehanded.'' Axel's son Alec, who inherits his father's amorous insatiability and political acumen, becomes a skillful lawyer known among the city's ``Visibles'' and ``Venerables'' as ``The Man to See in Washington.'' Just (Ambition and Love, 1994, etc.) adroitly records and entwines these men's fates with those of fictional and real politicos (Adlai Stevenson makes a memorable brief appearance) and fills his brimming novel with dozens of witty revelations of how government, business, and society really function. His characters tend to speak in near-aphorisms (good ones), and this can prove wearing--but only when Just allows them to explain themselves at self-indulgent length. They are all nonetheless vividly realized, especially Axel's first wife (and nemesis) Sylvia, a gifted poet and resilient survivor whose combative relationships with her husband and son echo, so to speak, both Ford's Parade's End and Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy. An entertaining, intelligent novel that combines the juiciness of a John O'Hara beach-blanket read with the suave assurances of Louis Auchincloss at his most acute. One of Just's best books. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-85697-3
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997


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