Picks and Pans Review: The American Blues
by Ward Just
The narrator of this novel is a 40ish former journalist who has spent months on a nonfiction book about Vietnam. The manuscript needs only a last chapter—and that's the big problem. He cannot find any way to end his book. Just before Christmas, he leaves his wife and son on their bitter cold New England mountain and goes to see his friend Quinn, a wealthy, successful author of mystery novels who has a big house near the Canadian border. Quinn and his current girlfriend arrange for the hero to meet a pretty young ski instructor, and the two fall immediately into an affair. The narrator later reflects on his life: "I wanted clear vision, a salient moral sight, but my memory was too cluttered." His friend, the novelist Quinn, wants to sink into his writing: "I get deep enough into a book, I'm obsessed by it.... It's more real than my own life and more interesting. And a lot more fun." Just, a former journalist (and Vietnam correspondent) who has written nine other books, is a strong, careful stylist. He's hip too. Many icons of our era are touched on: Nixon, Jim Morrison, television news, Heineken beer, a poster with a painting by Max Beckmann. His theme—the difficulty of coming to grips with what America did in Vietnam—is an important one. It seems at times to be trivialized by these chic characters. There isn't a dull page, though, and like few others this novel provokes consideration of what it means to be a thinking adult in America today. (Viking, $15.95)
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