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"The Eastern Shore" by Ward Just

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"The Eastern Shore" by Ward Just

In The Eastern Shore Ward Just considers the life of a newspaper editor who works his way from small-town Indiana all the way to Washington, DC. In the nation’s capital he heads up a major, influential daily. He spends his career preparing each day’s newsworthy events for the world’s consumption, but … his life contains only a few those moments of drama - becoming estranged from his father after as a teenager incurring his wrath, finding out his onetime lover has died in Africa - that form a stark contrast from the lives he publicizes. The man spends his retirement struggling to write his memoirs, and eventually he figures out that he’ll never get it done. Even the stately country home he purchases for his golden years has fallen into disrepair and desuetude.

It’s a curious journey Mr. Just takes us on: he provides the life of an unappealing protagonist, a man who’s married to his job, and lives with it for better or for worse for 40 years or more. This hero sustains his bachelorhood throughout his life, and never has any very grand regrets about it, apparently, in spite of the fact that he loves and is loved pretty deeply several times in his life.

It could be that the title provides a major clue. When the chief character Ned reaches his (ineffectual, rather stilted) retirement in a crumbling estate on the Maryland shore, he has reached the end of the land, and is forced to stop. But it’s the only thing that’s stopped him. His focus is on other peoples’ news - those who are the subject of the stories, and those for whom the various newspapers are published, has dictated his life in spite of a handful of promising affairs. Even the journalism trade is reaching a retirement point: daily print withers in favor of real-time mass consumption of “news” on the internet.

The storytelling here adds to the art, and may be the main recommendation of this book. It’s bare-bones, almost like a news article in a big-city daily. The few excursions we have into Ned’s deeper self are the times when he frustrates his would-be life partners by preferring his career to any kind of close companionship. There are a few lessons learned along the way about journalistic responsibilities, and it could be we’re supposed to be touched and gratified that Ned learned the lessons and applied them to his work.

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