The prolific and critically-acclaimed Island author Ward Just has a new novel, Exiles in the Garden, which he will sign and discuss tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven.
The story centers on Alec Malone, a senator’s son who rejects the family business of politics for a career as a newspaper photographer. Alec and his Swiss wife, Lucia, settle in Georgetown next door to a couple whose émigré gatherings in their garden remind Lucia of all the things Americans are not. She leaves Alec as his career founders on his refusal of an assignment to cover the Viet Nam War — a subversive fictional choice from Mr. Just, himself a renowned war correspondent. Here is an excerpt from this engrossing story:
Mag said, It’s hard for me to admit that I never understood Alec, even as a little boy. I never understood what made him tick and I still don’t. But that isn’t the point actually. The point is that he never understood us, his father and me. I am bound to say that he didn’t make much effort. He never asked us the usual questions — how did you meet, where did you go on dates, how did you know you were right for each other, and if there were doubts, what were they? I think Alec made his own world but what that world is I cannot say. I don’t know if he has a destination. I think he has an ad hoc sort of life, but of course I may be mistaken. His father and I live in a public world, not every hour of every day but often enough, and it’s a glass house, too, not always but sometimes. Not to everyone’s taste, glass houses. I imagine it can be difficult for a child, a father in the public eye. But politics is Kim’s life and it is my life also, has been from the beginning. What you would call the rhythm of our life is governed by election cycles and by whatever important matter is before the Senate. There’s always something, on the floor or in one of Kim’s committees. That’s public business. I can hardly remember the time when our life was not public. Alec has never understood or if he has understood he has never appreciated that his father does serious work, essential work, the people’s business. He is frequently away and so am I. Our dinner hour is interrupted. Weekends, too. Our schedule fits into the political calendar, not the other way around. In that sense our time is not our own and that’s the bargain you make. I should say the bargain you choose because no one forces you. No one holds a gun to your head. Kim doesn’t regret it and I don’t either except we seem to be estranged from our only son. We have friends who are in the same boat. We all knew there would be a price for the life we chose. We none of us thought the price would be our children’s affection.
Excerpted from Exiles in the Garden by Ward Just, copyright © 2009. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.