Linda Miller gave me this book as she and Bill were leaving town and trying to reduce their library. It’s my fourth Ward Just book and I love it as I did the others.
He writes about the changes in a town not far from Chicago that occurred in towns in many places in post World War II America. It certainly happened in Fairfax, Virginia which went from a courthouse and a collection of feedstores to a giant bedroom community for Washington, DC. The town in question is threatened by Chicago, and as Just says
The cutting edge was Chicago’s aggression, its heat and energy and the influence it bought. It worked as a magnet both ways, the town’s attracting Chicago’s money, Chicago sapping the town’s vitality.
As the book opens, Amos Rising, the man who has held these changes at bay, the editor of the newspaper, has just died. He and a few others have alternately charmed and strong-armed everyone so that the town of his vision will survive. One key to this is to keep the newspaper in the Rising family, hence the importance of a family trust with that especially tricky codicil involving any proposed sale of the paper. While maintaining the integrity of a town is an appealing proposition, the arrogance of the few powerful men working their will is chilling. As it turns out, his most able son is charmed by a Chicago money-man and before Amos is altogether cold in his grave, the men in charge have done an about-face and the town’s center dies while suburbs grow.
And in the end the codicil can’t keep the newspaper in the family; the third generation is not able or interested in newspapers and a sale is necessary. The old family retainer is shocked at the idea of the newspaper being run by someone other than the Rising family, which seems like a lack of imagination on his part.
In perhaps the best paragraph of this 1978 book, the author is disconcertingly prescient. Here is Amos’ granddaughter telling a family story about Amos:
The last day of the 1952 convention, listening to Eisenhower’s acceptance speech, Amos shuddered at an awful thought. What if newspapers were blacksmith shops and television motorcars? What if by 1970 there were no newspapers, there were only millions of television sets, all of them broadcasting lies. What if every event in the country were filmed at the moment it was happening and displayed on the instant, without editing. An endless flow of disconnected incidents, now here, now there, episodes of every shape and color, a daily panarama of disorder without an assay of weight. No context. No memory. Of course he did not believe it would ever happen, or so he told my uncle. Television was a fad that would fade. The people would at last return to their newspapers, snug.
He has that right, except the part about returning to the newspapers.