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Jean Ross Justice: On the Life and Work of an American Master
Ryan Bollenbach & Kevin Prufer
The thirteenth volume in the invaluable Unsung Masters Series, an annual publication collecting and examining the work of “an important writer whose work has been unjustly neglected,” spotlights the fiction of Jean Ross Justice, who landed stories in top outlets in her youth but only published her first collection at the age of 84. Editors Bollenbach and Prufer include selections of her short stories followed by considerations of her work that tease apart the nuances and subtleties of the characters and their parallel themes to Justice’s life. An interview with Nat Justice, her son with Pulitizer winning poet Donald Justice, probes her childhood years during the Great Depression and her later emergence as an author, as well as her literary influences.

”The Dark Forces” reveals an adult son coming to terms with the death of his author father, against the backdrop of resentment toward his stepmother, which he later realizes has been tempered by their mutual experiences. In his analysis, Christian Schlegel points out this story’s motif of defining an author’s legacy, reminiscent of Jean’s career path, and goes on to dismantle patriarchal husband-wife dynamics in “The Offer,” a story of a wife’s desire to donate a kidney to a critically ill male friend and her husband’s obsessive worry at his inability to control what he views as an admission of guilt between the two.

Much of the collection orbits the ups and downs of marital relationships, with Chekovian insight, detai, and feeling. “The End of a Good Party” centers on a married man justifying his excess drinking and promiscuity because it occurs at parties of alleged intellectuals, while former college students scrutinize their friend’s affair with their now-deceased professor in “The Sky Fading Upward to Yellow,” contemplating whether she should reveal their tryst in order to secure a public mention in his biography. Throughout, Justice delicately unearths contemplations on intimacy and passion. Readers who favor skillful rendering of complex human interactions–and incisive examinations of such material–will not be disappointed.

Takeaway: A welcome, distinguished collection by an overlooked master of 20th century fiction.

Great for fans of: William Trevor, Katherine Anne Porter.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A