The Eastern Shore

Written by Ward Just
Review by Elicia Parkinson

This slow-moving story features Ned Ayres, a man who has grown up to become a newspaper editor, a profession his father does not approve of. As a child, Ned learns the important lesson that not all stories are factual, regardless of how fantastic or interesting or well-meaning they may seem. This founding principle follows Ned through his adulthood in the choices he makes in his business, the stories he tells through the newspaper, and the stories he allows to be shared. The past follows him throughout the novel, and the reader learns about his life through reflections of his childhood and family in small-town, mid-20th-century Herman, Indiana.

Though Ned does eventually leave Herman, causing even more of a rift in his immediate family, his past continues to haunt him. It affects everything he does in his work, in his relationships with partners and his family. There’s a low hum throughout the text that the decisions one makes in life will always be carried along, no matter how much time, space, or distance occurs.

Ward Just’s writing is simple but complex; there are, for example, no quotes around dialogue. Although I appreciated the slow unfolding of Ned’s tale, it occasionally became too plodding, too distant. The lack of emotional connection to Ned, in spite of his touching earlier memories, made it hard for me to connect to the story overall. However, despite its brevity, there is substantial American history from the mid-to-late 20th century that is revealed through Ned’s newspaper experience

Readers of Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and other mid-century writers will likely better appreciate the effort Ward Just puts forth in this slim novel.