How do you measure the overall achievement of a man’s life? It’s a frequently asked and sometimes clichéd question, but one that Ward Just, now an octogenarian, breathes new life into with this contemplative, enigmatic novel. Ned Ayres is a newspaperman through and through, driven to skip college to work for a small-town daily in Indiana, from which he moves on to a larger Chicago publication before reaching the pinnacle of his profession at “the paper” in Washington, D.C. Just’s non-chronological narrative reveals Ned as an editor uninterested in salaciousness or scandal; to him, news reporting is a careful and balanced process, the skill residing in a sense of knowing what to tell and what to leave unspoken between the lines. Ned arrives at this ethos early in his career with a single, shocking story, one that turns on the true identity of a man in his home town. It’s a story with profound repercussions, leaving lives upended in ways Ned never envisaged, and The Eastern Shore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) subtly explores the lasting effect of these events on Ned, as well as examining how a man who, having been witness to the extraordinary stories of others his entire life, and having carried their secrets, must ultimately ask what he has to say about himself. Just doesn’t answer such questions directly. Rather, his accomplished novel makes the insights available for those who care to look between the lines.
The Eastern Shore - Ward Just