Cover image for Lowell Limpett : and two stories
Lowell Limpett : and two stories
Just, Ward S.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Public Affairs, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 126 pages ; 22 cm
Lowell Limpett -- Wasps -- Born in his time.
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Author Notes

Ward Just (born 1935 in Waukegan, Illinois) is an American writer. He is the author of 15 novels and numerous short stories.

Ward Just briefly attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He started his career as a print journalist for the Waukegan (Illinois) News-Sun. He was also a correspondent for Newsweek and The Washington Post from 1959 to 1969, after which he left journalism to write fiction.

His novel, An Unfinished Season, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. His novel Echo House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997. He has twice been a finalist for the O. Henry Award: in 1985 for his short story About Boston, and again in 1986 for his short story The Costa Brava, 1959. His most recent novel is entitled, Exiles in the Garden. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

"Old Great" is what the disrespectful managing editor at a Cincinnati newspaper calls the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lowell Limpett, the hero and sole onstage performer in Just's riveting play. Unfashionably serious and uncompromising, Limpett, 59, who values clarity, effort, and honesty, and refuses to sacrifice the gunshot-sharp action of his manual typewriter for the ease of a word processor, is out of sync with management's efforts to charm readers with "bright" personality-oriented coverage rather than hard news. He has just returned from attending a colleague's funeral and wants only to get back to work, but the phone keeps ringing, shrill and threatening. As Limpett eloquently addresses the audience, Just cleverly uses the answering machine to bring other voices--Limpett's ally, Kate, and his increasingly provoked boss--into this lean and intense drama of moral conviction under siege. Just's resounding play, his first, is followed by two superb, Washington, D.C.-based, never-before-collected short stories, which bolster Just's standing as an extraordinarily polished and authoritative voice on the moral aspects of power, vocation, and integrity. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a departure from his two previous novels A Dangerous Friend and Echo House, boasting complexities of plot and large casts Just turns out three concentrated character studies in this slim collection. The title piece, a one-act play, is the monologue of Lowell Limpett, a veteran reporter reflecting on his life and career. An old school type with a worn, noirish voice, the award-winning Limpett downs Scotch and talks about the "thrill of writing a clean lead." He has reason to reminisce: at 59, he is facing the prospect of being put out to pasture. While definitely a recognizable type, in Just's able hands Limpett manages to convey some of the buried heartache in a "life inside the news." The novella "Born in His Time" offers another interpretation of a man consumed by his profession. The inner workings of power are clearly delineated in this tale of a young lawyer who becomes disillusioned and then embittered in the heady political climate of 1960s Washington, D.C. Limpett and Born are flawed idealists well captured by Just's clean, ex-reporter's prose; the third piece in the volume, "Wasps," a short story concerning the unique balance of power in a Washington marriage, registers as flimsy and opaque in comparison and feels tacked on to bulk up the page count. The volume itself is a bit of a collector's item: those who prefer Just's more involved political novels will have met the character types before, and new readers may be puzzled by the lack of larger context. Dedicated fans, however, will be happy to snap up a quick and satisfying variation on the themes Just knows best. (Sept. 4) Forecast: Sales of this minor work won't match Just's usual numbers; completists will bite, but browsers may pass. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Sitting Down a Novelist, Getting Up a Playwright I have never thought writing novels was hard work. Hard work was commercial fishing out of New Bedford or Gloucester or driving a sixteen-wheel truck. Novels have more to do with desire--translating desire into prose--and a temperament that accepts concentration over the long haul, meaning the ability to sit alone in one place day by day.     Writing novels bears some modest (very modest) comparison to grinding on the higher slopes of the PGA tour, magical afternoons bunkered by afternoons of routine or appalling play and reminding yourself every minute to trust your swing.     Middle-aged golfers watching the Houston Open on television in May 2000, turned their faces to the wall when forty-six-year-old Craig Stadler, playing beautifully from tee to green, missed short putts on four consecutive play-off holes to lose the match to Robert Allenby, not yet thirty. Allenby was not playing well, except on the green, where it counted.     My heart went out to Stadler, gray-haired, red-faced, so weary and impatient, so eager to get it over with. During the four-day run of the tournament he had used up his ration of concentration. He needed a distraction, something droll or alarming, anything that would divide him from the task at hand and cause him to reflect. His five-foot putts had become a kind of tyranny. (And the five-foot putt is the golfer's equivalent of the successful sentence that completes the chapter.)     I hoped for a monstrous rainstorm so Stadler could go away, get a good night's sleep, and return the following morning. Meanwhile, Allenby, as steady as a metronome, completing his chapters with the authority and--it has to be said--the slow motion of Henry James in his late period.     For many years I have tried to find an agreeable distraction, something more sideline than hobby, some avocation that was not too difficult or tyrannical or long-term. When the sentences began to fall apart, there would be this other thing to do, my equivalent of a good night's sleep: except the sleep might last for weeks. Of course, there would be money in it, whatever it was.     I was willing to try almost anything. The truth is, I thought of this activity as a day at the racetrack. If you forgot about hunches, if you studied the form and bet every race, the odds were good that you would cash at least one ticket. Perhaps, if you were clever enough, a win ticket or even the daily double.     My children described this as Dad's search for a get-rich-quick scheme. But I only wanted to get out of the office.     For a long time I thought I could do voice-overs, the sort of thing that David McCullough does so well for The American Experience . I have what I have always believed was a nicely modulated baritone, perhaps riddled a little around the edges by tobacco and scotch, but inviting nonetheless. That voice, I imagined people saying, that voice has been around. I asked a friend where I might take this undiscovered talent, and after listening to a tape, she said commercials. An arthritis remedy or something to do with heartburn or anxiety. McCullough is safe, she added.     And that brings me to Paris, February 1991. A long, gray winter, the dollar falling. My wife and I had moved from one overpriced apartment to another. I had completed the novel I was working on and was unwilling to begin another right away.     The worm of avocation had begun to crawl yet again, to no positive result. I spent my time watching the Persian Gulf War on television and visiting museums, never neglecting a nourishing meal at the end of the day. It was at one of these that two German friends, a diplomat and a historian, suggested we go together to see Patrick Suskind's play La Contrebasse , at the Theatre des Arts-Hebertot. The author was a friend of theirs.     I very much admired his novel Perfume , and under normal circumstances I would have agreed at once. It's always interesting when writers change hats: poets to novelists, novelists to playwrights. But circumstances were not normal. La Contrebasse was in French, and I did not speak French. My wife spoke French. She dealt with the plumbers, electricians, doctors, dentists, and Le Monde . I was the one who sat in cafes and listened to conversations, inventing my own translations.     Don't worry, the diplomat said. We'll translate for you.     The historian seconded the motion.     My wife insisted that I knew more French than I thought I did, and, en tout cas , everyone would chip in with key words and phrases.     What a pleasure for those sitting around us, I thought but did not say.     So we attended La Contrebasse by Patrick Suskind at the Theatre des Arts-Hebertot. It turned out to be a one-character play involving a musician and his double bass. I had matters pretty well in hand until about the fifth minute, when the narrative collapsed. I had no idea what the actor, Jacques Villeret, was saying.     I inferred that he and his double bass had an extremely complicated relationship, and that things were not going well between them. The action transpired in the musician's apartment somewhere in bohemian Paris; the Marais, perhaps, or Montparnasse.     The audience was laughing; my wife and our German friends were enthralled. So any idea of assistance with the salient words and phrases was forgotten. For me these were minutes of oceanic boredom until my mind slipped into another realm altogether. As I did in cafès, I began to supply my own translation. Just as suddenly, the musician and his double bass vanished. In their places appeared a newspaper reporter and his typewriter.     The newspaper reporter was middle-aged, as was the musician; and the typewriter was well worn and talismanic, as was the double bass. The reporter seemed to have an affectionate relationship with the machine; it was his career that was going to hell.     The set remained the same: a couch, a desk, two tables, chairs here and there, a bookcase. But Paris had become Cincinnati because in my mind's eye I saw a poster that hung on my office wall in the rue des Saints-Pères: Edward Hopper's Street Scene, Gloucester , Cincinnati Art Museum.      My newspaperman was fifty-nine. He was a soloist, a little scornful of the ensemble. Along the way he managed to win a Pulitzer Prize, a badge he thought was not entirely deserved. When the curtain rose, Act I, Scene 1, he erupted on the stage in a fury, as Jacques Villeret had done.     I have no idea of the cause of the musician's agitation, but the newspaperman was returning from the funeral of a colleague, with the justified suspicion that his editor wanted to fire him. If my newsman had thought of himself as a musician, he would have chosen Bach, for the measured cadence and formality of expression. But since he though of himself as an artist, he believed that on his best days he captured something of Hopper. His editor preferred Roy Lichtenstein, so my man was headed for the shelf.     How did it go? my wife asked when La Contrebasse was over.     Wonderful, I said.     She looked at me with astonishment.     You understood it?     Everything, I said. Nothing.     Lowell Limpett took four days to write. Really, all I had to do was transcribe what I had written in my head during the ninety-minute reverie in the Theatre des Arts-Hebertot. I had been given a free bet at the track, so the writing was a lark, as if I had decided to compose a long letter to a friend or a bedtime story for my grandchildren.     I put into it all I had ever known or heard about newspaper reporters reaching the end of their one-way street, all seen through the lens of my own newspaper experience of decades before; alternative histories, as someone called it. My character was more restrained that Patrick Suskind's, at least as Jacques Villeret played him. But his double bass and my typewriter were brothers, and I can remember now the unfathomable rapid-fire French mutating into measured American idiom, and my surprise when the curtain fell and the audience broke into applause.     I wrote the play, had a good laugh, and thought that I had found my sideline, except that I had no expectation that anyone would want to risk a production. So it was a pro bono sideline, with some vanity thrown in.     Lowell Limpett had its debut in Paris in March 1991: a living room full of invited guests; many, many drinks before the curtain rose; Alan Riding, a reporter for the New York Times , in the title role. Somewhere a videotape survives, but owing to inattention or too much Bordeaux or mechanical failure, the tape is without sound. Since virtually everyone in attendance was connected to the news business, there was high hilarity. Everyone thought it had commercial possibilities. What a vehicle! And so funny!     That summer I sent it around, first to friends in the theater business, then to friends of the friends, finally to the theater companies. But you know this story. This is an old story without possibilities, because all unhappy theater stories are alike. Each happy theater story is happy in its own way. I put Lowell Limpett into the discard file and forgot about it, reminded only when I glanced at Hopper's picture on my office wall.     And there matters stood for eight years. My wife and I returned to New England. I published four novels, did a voiceover, continued my struggles with golf; searching always for an agreeable sideline.     Then one fine day I got a call from the playwright Michael Weller. He had seen the manuscript of Lowell Limpett in 1991 and liked it, and now he proposed that I sign up with the mentor program for emerging playwrights at the Cherry Lane Alternative Theater in Manhattan. You get a mentor to smooth the rough edges and the promise of a ten-day run at the Cherry Lane Alternative.     If I had any doubts--and what doubts were there to have?--they were forgotten when I learned the identity of my mentor. Wendy Wasserstein owns a Pulitzer Prize, just like Lowell Limpett. Unlike Lowell Limpett, she's young enough to be my daughter.     Mentee, she said, and began to cackle.     What can I expect? I asked.     This is a get-rich-quick-scheme, she said, and laughed and laughed. Lowell had his ten days of fame at the Cherry Lane Alternative in Greenwich Village, a slow start but full houses the last few days of the run. I was present opening night and the next night and then went home. For me, the experience was the reverse of La Contrebasse . I knew the lines as well as that fine actor, Gerry Bamman, did. But it was disorienting for me to watch Gerry act, and the audience react. A novel or short story is read in private, and the reaction is private; it is as private as the writing was, an unmediated experience, only the writer and the lines on the page. By contrast, the theater's a circus, the actor, the set, the lighting, the audience, and it's likely to be a different experience night to night. Still, it is unsettling when the audience does not laugh when it should. Specifically, the line "Reporters are like Germans, they are either at your feet or at your throat," yielded few smiles--and that was a line I liked so well I pirated it from a novella I had written fifteen years before. ( Honor, Power, Riches, Fame, and the Love of Women .)     Gerry Bamman was blunt.     They don't like it, Ward. They don't smile. They don't laugh.     Do they think I'm being disrespectful to Germans?     I don't know what they think except they don't think it's Funny.     All right, then, I said. Cut the damn thing.     Thank you, he said. I will.     Yet this is also true. When everything is working right, a hush settles over the theater. It is the hush of the graveyard, a palpable hush, a hush that raises the hair on your neck. There is nothing quite like it, not even the occasional a-giant-walks-among-us review you get in the book section of the newspaper, or the warm letter from a reader you have never met. This happens in front of your own eyes, and you do not look around you to judge the expressions on the faces of the audience, because you are as taken with the moment as they are. In that moment, you have willingly surrendered your identity and become just another fanny in the seat, enthralled by the actor's art.     Lowell Limpett is backed by a story and a novella, both written in the early nineteen-seventies. Wasps was written in Warren, Vermont, and Born in His Time in Washington, D.C. I have nothing to add to the words on the page. Enjoy them in the privacy of your own home, airplane, train, bus, or beach. West Tisbury, Massachusetts Excerpted from Lowell Limpett by Ward Just. Copyright © 2001 by Ward Just. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.