In Forgetfulness, his 15th novel in a distinguished career as both a journalist and fiction writer, Ward Just offers a heartbreaking tale that is as contemporary as today's newspaper headlines and as timeless as the most profound classic tragedy. Just's admirers will welcome this latest addition to an impressive, if underappreciated, body of work, and new readers will undoubtedly be inspired to seek out more of his writing.
Thomas Railles is a respected American painter, enjoying an idyllic life in the south of France with his wife Florette, a native of their small village. He produces portraits displayed in museums and galleries around the world, frequents the local cafÅ½, and plays billiards with his neighbor, St. John Granger, an enigmatic veteran of World War I. Railles' placid existence is shattered when, one autumn afternoon, Florette is seriously injured while hiking alone in the nearby mountains. Four Moroccan terrorists traversing the region start to rescue her on an improvised stretcher, but when it becomes clear they cannot save her life without risking exposure, they kill her.
In crisp, unadorned prose, Just focuses on Railles' struggle with his grief, while patiently peeling back the benign veneer of the painter's life to reveal his occasional undercover jobs for two boyhood friends, career CIA agents. Railles must confront the fact that in at least one instance that work what he casually refers to as a lark may have resulted in the death of a man. Those same friends vow to track down Florette's killers to enable Railles to exact revenge. Soon, they do that and Railles is brought face-to-face with the killers in a claustrophobic interrogation room. The scene in which he confronts Yussef, the quartet's leader, is painted with heart-stopping brilliance.
The world Ward Just has created in Forgetfulness is a chilly place, where actions have consequences and moral debts must be repaid. Yet that same world is one in which human beings are free to make choices that ultimately will define their lives. Readers who like their fiction full of serious questions will find this a mature and deeply satisfying work.