Saturday, September 16, 2006

Novels about the pursuit of money

Ward Just, who recently compiled a list of books he admires for their “'autumnal' quality, the sense that spring’s return is no sure thing," has now come up with his five "favorite novels about the pursuit of money."

Here are the two titles most recently published:

Something Happened by Joseph Heller (Knopf, 1974)

Inside the belly of the beast: "I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely." Bob Slocum is a middle- management man for whom the office is a kind of purgatory. Most days he is terrified, in an existential dread: He is uncertain of his place in the scheme of things. Beautifully written, often to the rhythm of a metronome, Something Happened ends with a sentence as honed as a knife's blade: "Everyone seems pleased with the way I've taken command."

American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin, 1997)

Getting and spending has never been a salient feature of Philip Roth's books. Most of his characters have jobs, as writers or university professors or advertising men, but capitalism--its recklessness, its restraints and its rewards--has never been a main concern. That changed with American Pastoral, a great work of fiction that summons the life of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a play-by-the-rules businessman with all the blessings that hard work and good luck can bestow: a beautiful wife, an adorable daughter, robust good health, abundance. Swede lives in a kind of paradise, America in the Eisenhower years. Then the 1960s arrive, and the adorable daughter becomes a vicious revolutionary-terrorist whose specific aim is to turn daddy's paradise upside down; and she succeeds.

Click here to learn about Just's other titles.

Just’s new novel, Forgetfulness, has just been published.

Ward Just is the author of fourteen previous novels, including the National Book Award finalist Echo House and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Award. In a career that began as a war correspondent for Newsweek and the Washington Post, Just has lived and written in half a dozen countries, including Britain, France, and Vietnam. His characters often lead public lives as politicians, civil servants, soldiers, artists, and writers. It is the tension between public duty and private conscience that animates much of his fiction, including Forgetfulness.

--Marshal Zeringue