Synopses & Reviews
“An achievement . . . [that] fuses the romanticism of the early Kerouac and his mentor, Thomas Wolfe, with the wry humor of Richard Yates.”—New York Times Book Review
Tommy Ogden, an outsized character holding court in his mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Auguste Rodin, and instead announces his intention to endow a boys school. His decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Justs emotionally potent novel.
Lees life in the small town of New Jesper, Illinois, is irrevocably changed by the rape of one of his high school classmates. His father, a local judge and a member of “the Committee” of civic leaders that runs the town, votes to suppress the crime in the name of protecting their community. His mother responds by forcing a move to Chicagos North Shore, where Lee enrolls in the private Ogden Hall School for Boys. Both the crime and the school come to profoundly shape Lees knowledge of how the world works. Years later, Lee meets his victimized classmate. Their charged encounter is a confirmation of his understanding that how and what we remember lies at the heart of life.
“Sharply observant, pragmatic, mordantly funny, and stubbornly romantic, Ward Just is a spellbinding storyteller . . . Rodins Debutante is a powerful tale of daunting revelations and determined self-expression.”—Donna Seaman, WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio
“An understated and delicate offering by a master.”—Kirkus Reviews
"In Ward's solid 17th novel, a boy comes of age in mid-20th-century Chicago and tries to find a way to create art in the face of the world's harshness. Lee Goodell, an adventurous youngster, lives in New Jesper, a quiet town on the outskirts of Chicago where his father and a cabal of influential locals act as a well-meaningÂ protectorate of the town. After the coverup of a horrific sexÂ crime at Lee's school, the young Lee's illusions are broken, and he takes this loss of innocence with him toÂ boarding school at the Ogden Hall School for Boys. Lee's education takes place inÂ many arenas: the classroom, the football field, his sculpting studio, the Chicago streets, a free clinic, and among Hyde Park intellectuals, but when the victim of the sex crime fromÂ Lee's childhood returns to find out the truth of what happened, Just creates an opportunity for Lee to recognize the confluence of allÂ these influences on his life. Just's prose is clean and powerful, andÂ while Lee is a bit flat even when he's bad, he's good his coming-of-age is filled withÂ rich observations and finely tuned details. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Tommy Ogden, a Gatsbyesque character living in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Rodin and announces instead his intention to endow a boys’ school. Ogden’s decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Just’s emotionally potent new novel.
Lee’s life decisions—to become a sculptor, to sojourn in the mean streets of the South Side, to marry into the haute-intellectual culture of Hyde Park—play out against the crude glamour of midcentury Chicago. Just’s signature skill of conveying emotional heft with few words is put into play as Lee confronts the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School under the purview, in the school library, of a bust known as Rodin’s Debutante. And, especially, as he meets again a childhood friend, the victim of a brutal sexual assault of which she has no memory. It was a crime marking the end of Lee’s boyhood and the beginning of his understanding—so powerfully under the surface of Just’s masterly story—that how and what we remember add up to nothing less than our very lives.
A finely observed coming-of-age novel, set in Chicago, with a boarding school for boys and a never-solved sexual crime at its center, from the National Book Award finalist Ward Just.
Tommy Ogden, an outsized character holding court in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Auguste Rodin, and instead announces his intention to endow a boys school. Ogdens decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Justs emotionally potent novel. Lee is a small-town boy, the son of a judge, who at an early age eavesdrops on the deliberations of his father and other civic leaders as they successfully suppress the news of the brutal sexual assault on a classmate—giving Lee his first intimations of the difference between fear of the known and fear of the unknown. This unsolved crime marks the end of Lees boyhood and precipitates his arrival at Tommys misbegotten school Ogden Hall, where he is enthralled by the bust of a mysterious girl in the library, known only as Rodins Debutante. Both the crime and the school come to profoundly shape his knowledge of how the world works. His subsequent success as a sculptor of marble, living on the dangerous streets of the South Side and then marrying into the haute-intellectual culture of the university, plays out against the raw grab and glamour of midcentury Chicago. Years later, Lee meets his victimized classmate. Their charged encounter is a confirmation of his understanding—so powerfully under the surface of Justs masterly story—that how and what we remember lies at the heart of life.
Praise for Ward Just "A master American novelist."—Vanity Fair "Masterpieces of balance, focus, and hidden order . . . his stories put him in the category reserved for writers who work far beyond the fashions of the times."—Chicago Tribune "[Justs] vision of the people who run the world on our behalf is, for all their conventionality, the most profoundly subtle and, in its insight, the most radical."—Los Angeles Times Book Review "There comes a moment . . . when a reader is brought up short by how spectacularly well Ward Just writes fiction . . . Its effect is nearly explosive."—Boston Globe "One of the most accomplished and admirable American writers."—Washington Post Book World "[Just] has ardently crafted impeccable fiction for four decades now . . . Though dense with information on every page, Just's books are always sensibly sized and highly readable. This writer is an undersung American treasure."—Chicago Sun-Times
About the Author
WARD JUST's seventeen previous novels include Exiles in the Garden, Forgetfulness, the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the Cooper Prize for fiction from the Society of American Historians, and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award and a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.