Masterful and complex, Ward Just's thirteenth novel is fiction for thinking adults. It's a novel of ideas about filmmaking and narrative, about the collision of two worldsHollywood and fantasy, Germany and the weight of history. At its center is Dixon Greenwood, director of a tour de force called Summer, 1921, an antiwar cult classic filmed in Germany. But that was thirty years in Dix's past; now he's lost his audience to blockbusters and action flicks and he broods, a lion in winter, in sunny Los Angeles.
Capturing the sensual subtleties of place and the sensibilities of highly distinctive milieus is something Just has been successfully doing for years. With The Weather in Berlin, the author explores contemporary Germany, a place rife with aftershocks from the fall of the Berlin Wall, not to mention shame, still simmering, over World War II. The rector of a think tank invites Dix to Berlin, where he's offered a chance to direct a German TV series, a kind of crinolines-and-bayonets soap opera that dramatizes the Fatherland before the führer. Embracing the project, he not only reclaims his glorious pastJanna, a star who had mysteriously disappeared from the set of Summer, 1921, returns to act again with himbut begins to reengage his highly imaginative mind.
Dix's mind, quick, probing if a bit detached, is that of a storyteller. It's a way of thinking Dix inherited from his father, who once told his son to "listen carefully always to the stories that people told....When you listened hard enough, the stories became yours." It's in entering the mind of this film director that Just gives us, also, a Hollywood novel, in places just as acute as F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, as acerbic as Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust.
A jaundiced veteran, Dix hates the current tinseltown product, the glitz and the Oscar night hoopla: "This year he hadn't even mailed his ballot because he had walked out of two Best Picture nominees and had not seen two others." But his director's instincts, his camera-lens vision, have compromised him, too, in the past. And that past is exhumed while he's filming his new television show. A muckraking reporter discovers that Janna, Dix's star of Summer, 1921, and the greatest muse of his career, had been only fifteen when she'd made the film, a minor who'd engaged in a steamy tryst with Dix's cameraman. The scandal is three decades old, but scandal nonetheless. Caught in the glare of paparazzi flashbulbs, Janna crumbles.
And one night, as Dix is driving with her through the streets of Berlin, his car is trashed by Marxist demonstrators, leaving Janna seriously injured and Dix consumed with guilt. More concerned with aesthetics than ethics, he'd drawn Janna, as a young girl, into the perilous, artificial world of moviemaking; now in the autumn of his years, he's again exposed her to danger. And yet the remnant Hollywood in him knows that the scandal will help skyrocket the ratings for his TV program. "Life was present," he muses, "to give context to the films you made. You involved life as you invented a film, and lies were part of it. Lies were fundamental."
A meditation on Germanythe place, Dix says, "where the modern world begins"and on movies, mythmaking and the artist's vision and obligation, The Weather in Berlin is serious and provocative storytelling. And it's one more triumph for Ward Just, perspicacious explorer of outer and inner worlds.
Just's provocative novels (Echo House, etc.) combine sharp journalistic observation with an unsentimental view of human behavior, expressed in economical prose taut with ironic implications. His specialty is the depiction of men adrift in difficult times, generally in cultures that conspire to drain them of dignity and decency. Here, the central character is a 64-year-old filmmaker, Dixon Greenwood, whose first movie, filmed in Germany in the late 1960s, was acclaimed as an antiwar classic. But Greenwood has endured a 15-year dry spell, and is convinced that he has lost his audience and his creative gifts. In 1999, he returns to dreary wintertime Berlin on a fellowship. Many of the Germans he meets are bitterly mired in the past, disillusioned with the politics of the left and the right and resentful of America's prosperity. Dix feels alienated, weary, displaced until two events occur. He agrees to direct the climactic episode of Germany's most popular TV drama, Wannsee 1899, a nostalgic evocation of the glory days of old Prussia. Then a significant figure from his past reappears. While Just's insights into the modern world are trenchant, his characters too often declaim their opinions in sometimes tendentious and didactic speeches. Yet characters who spout jingoism, racism and self-pity are countered by more moderate voices that may promise a changed national psyche. And the intelligence that suffuses the narrative creates a compelling dynamic in which the historical forces of the 20th century are embodied in human terms. Author tour. (June 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Traveling to an ascendant Berlin in 1998, Dixon Greenwood grasps the chance for a second act when he is offered a think tank residency. A once successful film director unable to work for years because his audience has disappeared, Dixon immerses himself in the experience. Despite troubles at his Hollywood home, vicious winter weather in Berlin, and other distractions, Dixon transforms the clich of the jaded American abroad into a quest. It would not be telling too much to say that in his 13th novel Just lets the good guy win. Giving the new Germany its due with lots of evocative prose about the country and its history, Just writes seamlessly, mixing spoken dialog, interior monolog, and narrative so that the story unreels before the reader as in a film. Recognized for writing that puts him among the best in the United States today, Just portrays a talented person, trapped by circumstance and lassitude, breaking free into new creativity and insight. This masterly novel belongs in every public library. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/02.] Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A film director's late-life odyssey toward self-understanding is viewed from an impressive variety of perspectives in this 13th novel from the former Washington journalist (Lowell Limpett, 2001, etc.). Just's protagonist is Dixon Greenwood, who won brief fame during the "golden age" of American movies (late 1960s-early '70s) with his cult classic feature Summer, 1921, a sexually forthright portrayal of German artists between the two world wars. "Dix" is haunted by the crisis that occurred during filming: the inexplicable disappearance of young actress Jana Sorb, long since presumed dead. Thirty years later, Dix accepts a three-month "residence" in Berlin, where an interview with an archivist (for "an oral history on moviemaking") triggers detailed memories (rendered in staggered flashbacks) of his life, loves, and career-while meeting with local artists and intellectuals; adjusting to Berlin's "gray," bleak climate; and eventually persuading himself to guest-direct an episode of Wannsee 1899, a popular TV costume drama that romantically portrays "German life at the turn of the century." A surprise visitor from his past alters Dix's preconceptions and perceptions, forcing him to confront his own history as a manipulator (and, to some extent, an exploiter), as well as the irony of presuming to "direct" other people's lives and fates. Just has packed much of a lifetime's experience and observation into this survey of a chaotic century's jagged momentum, and the meditative rhythms grow increasingly seductive. Past and present are seamlessly conjoined, and Dix's conflicted epiphanies are realized in several brilliant set pieces, including a marvelous sequence in a Berlin cafe where Dix and twoGerman women acquaintances are served by a sardonically polite Vietnamese waiter; and the account of Dix's half-willing participation in the shooting of a wounded, cornered wild boar. A symphony of reverie, vivid symbolic statement, and unsparing sociohistorical and self-analysis. Just has never done anything better. Author tour
"One of the most astute writers of American fiction." The New York Times Book Review
"Just writes...smart, well-crafted narrativeswise to the ways of the worldthat use fiction to show us how we live." The Los Angeles Times
"Just...a virtuoso novelist, never uses two words when one, just the right one, will do." The Seattle Times
"Just writes seamlessly, mixing spoken dialogue, interior monologue, and narrative
the story unreels before the reader as in a film." Library Journal
"Just has never done anything better." Kirkus Reviews
"Just's prose is precise and smooth, A BMW cruising the autobahn." Boston Magazine
"[T]he intelligence that suffuses the narrative creates a compelling dynamic in which the historical forces of the 20th century are embodied in human terms." Publishers Weekly
"Just's imagination guides us on this journey...it's the stops along the way that count as much as the destinations." Newsweek
"Just...a virtuoso novelist, never uses two words when one, just the right one, will do." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"Another carefully crafted novel of character and manners by [Just]
little happens to the characters externally, while much happens
internally." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Elegantly written, strikingly intelligent
.an indelible portrait of a man struggling to make sense of himself in this ever-shifting world." Newsday
"Masterful and complex
fiction for thinking adults
. Capturing the sensual subtleties of place and the sensibilities of highly distinctive milieus." Book Magazine
"[A] mature and astute novel
Written with acute observations and lyricism." The Philadelphia Inquirer
A skilled observer of America's top people.
The New Yorker