The Eastern Shore

by Ward Just

From an American master comes another “beautifully languid, emotionally intense tale” (Entertainment Weekly), this time of a newspaper editor’s fateful decision to expose a small-town fugitive.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544836587
  • ISBN-10: 0544836588
  • Pages: 208
  • Publication Date: 10/18/2016
  • Carton Quantity: 12

About the book

From an American master comes another “beautifully languid, emotionally intense tale” (Entertainment Weekly), this time of a newspaper editor’s fateful decision to expose a small-town fugitive. 


Ned Ayres, the son of a judge in an Indiana town in midcentury America, has never wanted anything but a newspaper career—in his father’s appalled view, a “junk business,” a way of avoiding responsibility. The defining moment comes early, when Ned is city editor of his hometown paper. One of his beat reporters fields a tip: William Grant, the town haberdasher, married to the bank president’s daughter and father of two children, once served six years in Joliet. The story runs—Ned offers no resistance to his publisher's argument that the public has a right to know. The consequences, swift and shocking, haunt him throughout a long career, as he moves first to Chicago, where he engages in a spirited love affair that cannot, in the end, compete with the pull of the newsroom—“never lonely, especially when it was empty”—and the “subtle beauty” of the front page. Finally, as the editor of a major newspaper in post-Kennedy-era Washington, DC, Ned has reason to return to the question of privacy and its many violations—the gorgeously limned themes running through Ward Just’s elegiac and masterly new novel.

About the author
Ward Just

WARD JUST's novels include Exiles in the Garden, Forgetfulness, the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the Cooper Prize for fiction from the Society of American Historians, and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award and a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.  






Uncle Ralph lived in the nursing home on the southern side of town, a solitary building on a low hill, low-slung, horizontal. It was built in 1912, the architect a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, the cost raised by subscription and a modest rise in property taxes. Everyone agreed it was a fine facility. The staff consisted of one doctor and three capable nurses, more than adequate to care for the twenty-two residents, ten men and twelve women, all but one in their seventies and eighties. Uncle Ralph was fifty-two. He occupied a small room on the second floor with a distant view of the Daggett River and the nine-hole golf course beyond. Everett Nursing Home was run loosely. Family and friends could visit anytime they wanted between ten a.m. and eight p.m. Two of the men and four women were senile and did not leave their rooms. Uncle Ralph was known as the Sergeant because he was a veteran of the Great War, a survivor of the Western Front. His memory was phenomenal, story after story tumbling from it in a husky baritone. Everyone knew that among his many wounds was a slice of shrapnel to the throat. Uncle Ralph was fond of standing at the window of his room and remarking that the golf course’s sand traps reminded him of the craters left by artillery bombardments in the war, except the craters were much deeper, eight, ten feet in places, whereas the sand traps were shallow. Also, there were fewer sand traps than craters. Still, when he looked at the sand traps he thought of bomb craters. The foursomes on the golf course reminded him of infantry. Nine irons became Mausers, and billed caps the heavy iron helmets of the German army. 

       Uncle Ralph’s Saturday-afternoon audience was his nephew Ned Ayres, little Neddy, a bright and inquisitive boy who never seemed to tire of his uncle’s war stories. Listen carefully, Uncle Ralph would say in his husky voice. This was July 1918. We were closing on Ludendorff’s forty divisions. We moved out at dawn from Meaux and marched east to Trilport. From Trilport to Changis and Favant and Nogen and Charly and, at last, Château Thierry. They were just little French villages, some of them deserted or mostly deserted. The weather was warm and our boots kicked up a storm of dust from the roads, French dust. We don’t have dust like that here in Indiana. The dust was frightful. Choking dust. You could suffocate from it and when the dust got bad enough you put on your gas mask. You were unable to get away from it, damned dust. In your hair and eyes and your boots and your ?— ?and here Uncle Ralph glanced at Neddy, pausing fractionally ?— ?crotch. It was in your ears and under your fingernails. It blotted out the sky, you see, and that was a good thing because the Hun air force was about, deadly bastards. God, they were vicious. Later that day we had a soft rain that put down the dust even though it remained in your pockets and eyelids. Never seen anything like it here in Indiana. I don’t know how they managed to live there day by day, the French peasant class. Filthy stuff, dust. 

       Ugh, Neddy said, glancing furtively at his uncle, whose voice had risen as if he were on a parade ground. Uncle Ralph was shaped like a barrel, short of stature, entirely bald with scars here and there on his head and arms. He wore thick-lensed wire spectacles and heavy workman’s shoes. His hands were dainty, unlike 

the rest of him. His light blue eyes were mere slits behind the spectacles and his eyelids. Now he coughed twice, a kind of lumbar whistle. 

       Château Thierry was the objective. The front line. Beyond it was Ludendorff in person. The crown prince ?— ?Kronprinz ?— ?was there somewhere too. Forty divisions spread over a hundred miles, a killing ground all right. Uncle Ralph paused there, collecting himself, his eyes half shut as if he were struggling for something, a name or a face, some fugitive emotion or buried memory. And then he smiled. Rubbed his hands together and leaned close to Neddy. He said, This is confidential. Between us. I’m going to tell you a secret, the way things were back then. 

       We saw the Hun from a distance. They came from the forest into twilight. Wolves were among them, mangy creatures, undisciplined, furtive in the shadows. And then the wolves vanished and the German infantry was in our midst. They were big men, most of them bearded. They had had a bad time of it, you could see that. They were weary. And they carried gifts, candy bars and chocolate bears, bunches of flowers. They looked half starved but they couldn’t’ve been friendlier. Some of them spoke English. Only a few were armed, their Mausers slung over their shoulders, barrels down. Up close they were not fearsome. They were playful as children, these German boys, asking questions and not always waiting for answers. Why, they stayed with us an hour or more. Of course we had come to a halt. The light rain continued to fall as the sky darkened. We were still miles from Château Thierry but no one seemed to mind. They began slowly to drift away, our German enemy. They disappeared into the rain one by one. The colonel commanding removed his shako and gave us a friendly wave. Auf Wiedersehen. He was a fine-looking officer, at ease on his horse. Darkness continued to fall until at last there was only us Americans. Our expeditionary force. We were alone. The ground around us was littered with candy wrappers and flower petals. You know, Neddy, there’s goodness in everyone. The goodness must be sought out and accepted when you find it. Often it’s buried deep, depending on the situation, the time of day and so forth. The challenge. So, we set off with light hearts. Our morale was good. We marched on and didn’t reach Château Thierry until well after midnight. Gosh, we were bushed. We’d had it by then, don’t you see. At dawn the guns began to fire and we marched off in the direction of the guns. 

       Uncle Ralph stopped there and lit a cigarette, his fingers trembling. 

       At a sudden noise behind him, Neddy turned. His father was in the doorway. 

       Hi Neddy, hi Ralph. 

       Eric, Ralph said. 

       I’ve heard the most wonderful story, Neddy said. 

       You’re lucky, his father said. Your Uncle Ralph has a million of them. 

       I’m tired, Ralph said. 

       No wonder, Eric said. 

       What do you mean by that? 

       It’s tiring, telling stories, don’t you think? 

       I suppose, Ralph said. 

       Eric Ayres looked at his watch. Is there anything you need? 

       I want to take a nap, Ralph said. 

       Well, Eric said. Next Saturday, then. 

       Neddy was on his feet, his hand on his uncle’s shoulder. Ralph did not respond, his eyes half shut once again. Neddy knew he was in another place, not here, somewhere private. He knew from past experience that his uncle would not speak again. He looked up at his father, so lean and tall.


"I found myself often — at that villa in Spain, or with Ned and Milo sipping Rioja at Milo’s wood-paneled club in DC — captivated by the beautiful language, the sense of place so well described, and feeling at home — at ease in Just’s good hands, a sense of belonging there that made the novel a pleasure to read."--Washington Independent Review of Books  


"The truth lies behind the dialogue...wtih the genuine pleasure of Just's sure hand."--New York Times Book Review 


"In Just’s hands, the ambiguous motives behind the paper’s pursuit of the story are riveting...the novel stands on Just’s memorable study of Ned. Your heart goes out to this kindly, complex man who’s 'not truly interested in the things of his own life, preferring the lives of others.'"--The Seattle Times  


"It’s a pleasure to report that at age 81, Ward Just is still turning out penetrating studies of mature adults wrestling with life’s profound challenges, often in the public arena...Just’s finely calibrated appreciation of the flaws of human character and his talent for gazing without blinking into the darkest corners of the human heart continue to distinguish him as a writer of keen intellect and insight."--Bookpage  


The Eastern Shore is a doggedly restrained character study that advances its themes obliquely through atmosphere and tone. Often, the effect is quietly, even elegiacally beautiful, evoking the rhythms of Ernest Hemingway’s early fiction...a quietly affecting, mournful achievement."--The Richmond Times-Dispatch 


"Reflective and intelligent...himself a respected journalist, Just skillfully examines a number of existential questions, including how we come to understand the choices we make and how well we actually know ourselves...a pensive, quietly affecting novel. Recommended for literary fiction fans."--Library Journal 


"Clever."--Publishers Weekly