Friday, August 18, 2006

Lowell Limpett and Two Stories by Ward Just

I have had Ward Just on my want-to-read list for sometime, and with a suggestion recently that we might choose one of his books for a discussion, I decided it was time to check out one of his books. In the interest of time, I took the slimmest one off the shelf, which turned out to be Lowell Limpett and Two Stories.

The title piece is a short play about an aging newspaper reporter at a crisis point in his career. It requires one actor and one set. The play begins with Lowell Limpett returning to his apartment from a funeral of a colleague. By chance he sat next to his boss on the flight home and realizes that the publisher wants him taken off his beat. He spends the play not answering his phone. The play is essentially a character study. If it were the only piece in the book, I would not be writing this review.

On both the cover and the title page "and Two Stories" is in smaller type than the title of the play, giving the impression that they are less significant. What a pity and poor editorial decision! The two stories are superb. Both are set in Washington, DC and deal with people on the edge of national affairs. Perhaps they were unfinished when Just published an entire book of Washington stories called The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert in 1973. In any case, they are rich, mature, and worth reading.

"Wasps" is the story of Melanie, a congressman's wife. As a child she went into a coma after a wasp bite, and her life has limited by the fear of another deadly sting. Her passion is reading and her husband orders stacks of books for her from the Library of Congress. Her current topic is the Spanish Civil War. Librarians might find the story particularly interesting because she defends reading for the joy of learning.

"Born in His Time" is the story of a young lawyer working for a quietly prestigious Washington firm who gets involved in congressional hearing to approve a presidential appointment. The process of politics over law disheartens him. He remembers his studies of particle physics, his desire to be a scientist, and longs for a more principled life.

Like the play, both stories are character studies, but they seem richer to me. As a whole, the book is very worth reading. Not many libraries own it, but you can request an interlibrary loan.

Just, Ward. Lowell Limpett and Two Stories. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. ISBN 1586480871

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