An unusual miscellany from the former ace journalist and author of such sophisticated politically based fiction as National Book Award finalist Echo House (1997).
The volume includes a short story and a novella (both previously uncollected), as well as a one-act play written in 1991. The novella “Born in His Time” is a sardonic cautionary tale cast as a piecemeal remembrance of an ardent young Washington “insider” (the eponymous Born) who joins a prestigious law firm as a temporary career move, loses both his ideals and his rather less principled wife (herself an attorney), then burns out and crashes in early middle age—as we learn from the older colleague who concludes gravely “that Born reminded me of an undefended fortress.” It’s quite smoothly written and deftly paced, though flawed by the distance at which the opaque Born is held from the reader, making it difficult to either feel his pain or fully understand his motivations. Better is the story, “Wasps: The Sting as the Kiss”: a fablelike tale of the marriage between an ambitious, risk-taking politician and (the focal character) his cautious wife, whom a perilous childhood allergy has shaped into a woman who keeps her own counsel and resists taking chances. It’s a neat exercise in irony, which turns on the truth of its protagonist’s wry perception that “All things are not possible”—and, incidentally, a clever reworking of one of Just’s finest early stories, “The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert.” The play, Lowell Limpett, portrays a prizewinning veteran journalist’s embittered memories of career and personal life, as he awaits the axe from his (much younger) managing editor. Though its content is predictable, this savvy chamber piece (slightly reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill’s obscure one-acter Hughie) is enlivened by crisp one-liners and surprisingly playable brief epiphanic moments.
A worthy addition to a probably underrated oeuvre that looks better and better as the years pass.