Echo House

Echo House

by Ward Just

The decline of the Behls represents the decline of Washington from the bright dawn of the American century into the gathering shadows of an alien new millennium."

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.52
  • Pages: 336
  • Publish Date: December 15th 1997 by Mariner Books
  • Isbn10: 0395901383
  • Isbn13: 9780395901380

What People Think about "Echo House"

I was hoping to like it, since it's about Washington and politics, and it was a National Book Award Finalist.

Echo House is the story about three generations of patrician Washington power brokers, and their descending careers as American politics changed over time. She never likes Washington, and their marriage seems doomed from the start. After spending the night, Axel and his friend attempt to drive back to their assignment, but in a town the encounter tremendous carnage, presumably at the hands of French resistance fighters including Nadege. Home, Axels affections turn from Sylvia to Nadege. (204) Alec turns into a successful lawyer, and a behind the scenes power broker in the mode of his father. Willy thought that Alecs natural role was to represent both at once, Alec a kind of corporation counsel retained by Washington itself, the authority that was here today and here tomorrow and the day after, Alec the nimble mouthpiece seeking to preserve confidence at a time of terrible uncertainty; put another way, he was a bankruptcy referee protecting assets. (244) Alec, like his fathers, watches his marriage crumble, almost apathetically. Like his father, he falls for a French woman, this one a neighbor who worked at the French embassy. Alec stood in the doorway watching him, trying as always to read his mind and failing, remember when it seemed to him that his father could do anything, the ticket to Wimbledon and all the rest, and then his long absence. Alec wondered how often Axel thought of Nadege; he had not mentioned her name in years. But of course he thought about her all the time, Nadege and Sandrine were the ghosts of Echo House, present everywhere and visible nowhere, like Constance. (268) Talking to a friend from the French embassy, Alec is presented with a pithy observation of modern politics. (290) The press controls the information given to the public, and as such, what they write becomes the real power in Washington.

Often, one has no or very few preconceptions & this was certainly the case with Echo House by Ward Just, none of whose works I'd previously read. In fact one of the characters, Axel Behl, is said to be reading The Iliad, a book he regards as contemporary fiction, reading it in a "room that oozed conspiracy, phrased in a language as subtle as a hangman's smile." Ward Just's novel begins in 1916 with Senator Adolph Behl, who aspired unsuccessfully to become vice president, representing the 1st of 3 generations of the Behl family to dwell at the stately house on a 2 acre estate where President Lincoln met with General McClellan, a home that was "grand but not ostentatious, with rooms clustered like a set of Chinese boxes, clustered like squares on a chess board." The book cascades through WWII, "Ike" & the Army-McCarthy Hearings, JFK & then rather quickly moves into the Nixon era & the 1970s, with the 3 generations of Behls employing different approaches to political power and with Adolph's son Axel & his son Alec seeming to redeploy the skills & intuition of the generation before while remaining conscious of the family heritage. Much of the novel is about the process of power in American government, rather than about politics per se, representing three variations on a common theme & with Echo House acting as a familiar way-station or a beacon through changing times. In fact, it might be said that Echo House itself is the novel's main character. In reading Echo House I was reminded at times of other works set in the nation's capital, Advise & Consent and Gore Vidal's stage play & film, The Best Man and somewhat more recently All the President's Men. The constant through the changing times is always the home of the Behls, Echo House, a place where their wives & confidants always seem to feel estranged. Echo House contains some excellent writing & memorable passages detailing the process of government & the manner in which power is wielded but seems somewhat less effective in conveying human qualities.

This is probably a book that I would have enjoyed more if I'd really studied it. Reading this book is probably like listening to a complicated piece of music; it's better understood and appreciated if studied, dissected, and discussed in a graduate level course.

A Novel Of Insider Washington Ward Just's 1997 novel, "Echo House" tells a story of intrigue, power, and sadness in following three generations of the Behls, a fictitious family in Washington, D.C. The family lives in a large, historic Washington, D.C. mansion, Echo House, which once hosted a conference between Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan. (Lincoln's shadow and the memory of the Civil War hang heavily over this book.) The story begins with Adolf Behl, a senator who had been led to believe he would be the Democratic Party's nomination for vice-president but was rudely denied. The two other Behls, his son Axel and grandson Alec take a more roundabout approach to power than running for office. Novelistically and historically, the book is at its strongest in the early stages during WW II and its aftermath through the Truman administration as Axel Behl works as a fixer to help the United States through the Cold War and in the restoration of Western Europe. Alex's son Alec decides to become a lawyer and will soon take his place behind the scenes with the powerful in Washington, D.C. where, among many other things, he works to ease the process associated with the impeachment and resignation of President Richard Nixon. The most effective aspect of the book for me was the many passages of reflection on the United States and on its political process. Among many eloquent passages in the book, the following is one of several discussions of Lincoln taken from a long reminiscence from Axel Behl to his son early in the novel. "When the war ended we returned to Washington back to Echo House, my work in the government.

Echo House, the eleventh of his eighteen novels, is a brilliant portrayal of three generations of Washington deal-makers. The real world inside the Beltway Every second year, the population of Capitol Hill changes a little, and every fourth often witnesses a dramatic shift in the upper reaches of the Administration. In Echo House, Ward Just drills down into the lives of three generations in a family of Washington power-brokers. Echo House demonstrates the subtle ways the most powerful of these people operate behind the scenes and dictate the course of events. A saga of three generations Echo House traces the history of the rich and powerful Behl family from the time just after World War I until close to the end of the twentieth century, when the novel was first published. A young boy at the time, the Senators son, Axel, takes it all in, resolving to aim for the White House himself. Leaving aside the dream of winning the White House, Axel builds a power base through the intelligence community, becoming a confidential adviser of every president and becoming widely acknowledged through the capital as one of the most influential people in town.

It follows three generations of a family important in Democratic politics from a disappointing night in the life of Senator Adolph Behl (presumably during the Wilson administration) to a dramatic night in the lives of his son and grandson.

After the stream in N Italy that Julius Caesar crossed illegally with his army in 49 BC, making civil war inevitable: point of no return: a point at which any action taken commits the person taking it to a further course of action that cannot be avoided This story is splendid generational historical fiction about the unseen family of power players in Washington,DC. Players and Presidents come and go, but the Behl family remains.

His moving portrait of one complex political family reflects the history of Washington, D.C. from the Depression era to the rise (re-rise, I guess) of Richard Nixon.

His novel An Unfinished Season was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. His novel Echo House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997. His fiction is often concerned with the influence of national politics on Americans' personal lives.