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Rodin's Debutante Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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-meaning protectorate of the town. After the coverup of a horrific sex crime at Lee's school, the young Lee's illusions are broken, and he takes this loss of innocence with him to boarding school at the Ogden Hall School for Boys. Lee's education takes place in 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 from Lee's childhood returns to find out the truth of what happened, Just creates an opportunity for Lee to recognize the confluence of all these influences on his life. Just's prose is clean and powerful, and while Lee is a bit flat—even when he's bad, he's good—his coming-of-age is filled with rich observations and finely tuned details. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Just extends his grand inquiry into family, honor, and injustice in his beguiling and unnerving seventeenth novel. Like An Unfinished Season (2004), this bildungsroman is set on Just�s home ground, northern Illinois, where Tommy Ogden, a man of enormous inherited wealth, flagrant taciturnity, and an excessive avidity for shooting animals, turns his massive prairie mansion into an ill-conceived boys�school at the onset of WWI. Lee Goodell, the son of a judge, grows up in a nearby small town, a bucolic place until the Great Depression delivers tramps and a horrific sex crime. Lee, dreamy, kind, and willful, attends Ogden�s school, then headed by a Melville fanatic, where he plays football and swoons over a sculpted bust by Rodin. Determined to become a sculptor, Lee rents a basement studio on Chicago�s South Side, where a knife attack jeopardizes his artistic vocation and involves him in the lives of his poor, struggling neighbors and the mission of a compassionate African American doctor. Stealthily meshing the gothic with the modern, the feral with the civilized, in this mordantly funny yet profoundly mysterious novel, Just asks what divides and what unites us. What should be kept secret? Which teaches us more, failure or success? And of what value is beauty? HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Award-winning Just attracts more readers with each uniquely compelling novel. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780547504193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547504193
  • ASIN: 0547504195
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

WARD JUST is the author of fifteen previous novels, including the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the James Fenimore 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
RODIN'S DEBUTANTE is an interesting, well written novel that unfortunately is too unfocused to fully realize some of the large themes author Ward Just seems to have envisioned. The two main characters of the book are Tommy Ogden and Lee Goodell. The much older Ogden was the son of a very wealthy railroad tycoon, never had to work and spent much of his free time hunting wild game around the world. For reasons that never seem particularly genuine Ogden decided to start a prep school for young men at the huge estate he inherited. Supposedly he fully endowed "Ogden Hall" because he wanted a school in rural Illinois to compete with the famous ones in the east but I was unconvinced. Lee Goodell was one of the upper middle class young men who attended the boarding school in the 1950's. Goodell and Ogden met just once when Ogden was an old man within a year of his death and Goodell a senior at the Ogden founded school celebrating his football team's miraculous season. The reader is supposed to believe that this coincidental meeting had great meaning to the two men and somehow ties the book together. The invented for this book sculpture "Rodin's Debutante" which gives its name to the novel also attempts to provide some cohesiveness to the plot line as it serves as a framing device featured at the start and end of the book and additionally mentioned a few times in the middle.

The best part of the book is the vivid and authentic way Chicago and its environs are depicted in the time period around the middle part of the twentieth century. RODIN'S DEBUTANTE also has interesting plot developments and comments on American life and is readable enough to easily hold the reader's interest.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on February 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I give this unusual, meandering novel credit: I had no idea where it was going yet it held my interest throughout its circuitous journey. More than that, it made me think. What starts as a story about a wealthy rogue at the end of the Nineteenth Century segues into a World War II-era story about a young man who invigorates a prep school football team before he begins collegiate life and pursues an interest in sculpture. The story takes seamless detours into tales of small town violence (a vicious assault upon a female student) and big city violence (a mugging on Chicago's South Side) while exploring questions of perspective and memory. Tying together the stories of the rogue and the intellectual are a boarding school, a cathouse, and a bust sculpted by Rodin.

Rodin's Debutante focuses on two characters. Tommy Ogden, the son of a wealthy railroad baron, has no need to work and so indulges his passions: hunting, sketching, and sleeping with the women provided by the "social club" that leases him a space for his engagements. To the dismay of his wife, Ogden converts their estate into a boarding school for boys who can't fit in elsewhere. The bulk of the novel follows Lee Goodell, the son of a small town judge, who attends Ogden Hall before pursuing an intellectual and artistic life at the University of Chicago and in Chicago's Hyde Park. Like Rodin, Goodell becomes a sculptor. Two episodes of violence are central to the story: the vicious assault of a girl who is Goodell's classmate before he attends Ogden Hall and Goodell's own mugging years later. The two attacks have very different consequences for the two lives ... and that, I think, is one of the novel's points: you never know how your life will turn out.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Carrad on May 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is very much a Chicago (and suburbs of) book, and the presence of the East (as in "back East") haunts its pages. Just grew up in the Midwest and then came East to school, and he does the Midwest-East tension better than anyone since Fitzgerald.
This is a haunting and beautifully written book that creates several different atmospheres that pull you in and capture your attention. I particularly liked the analysis of small town power and politics in New Jasper; others may like the South Side of Chicago portions. Tommy Ogden is a gem.
This is not a plot-driven book; go elsewhere if that is what you are seeking. It is not intended to be one, and succeeds brilliantly on its own terms. A good introduction to Ward Just if you do not already know his work.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rett01 VINE VOICE on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Over lunch in Chicago's Drake Hotel, Lee Goodell, Ward Just's lead character in his newest novel "Rodin's Debutante," observes that his father has aged. "He was having trouble sleeping and now, the latest indignity, he was seeing a podiatrist to have his toenails clipped. Arthritis in his fingers made toenail clipping a chore. He took a sip of his old fashioned and sighed."

That description has Just written all over it: straightforward information, packed up neatly in a plain package that contains one and often several striking observations not easily forgotten. The simple fact that Goodell senior now visits a podiatrist to have his toenails trimmed says as much about the father's way of life and financial status as it does about the infirmities of old age.

A character in the book is described as doing meticulous work but at the same time "there was no denying the emotion that went into it." That's a description of the way Just writes. He wants us to think but also to feel. His books are authentic, crafted with authority. In this and his other novels Just writes with an insider's assurance about time and place.

He's best known for his Washington portraits "Echo House," "The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert," "Jack Gance." He also has ownership for Midwestern stories such as "A Family Trust," the best novel ever written about small town newspapering.

In "Rodin' Debutante," his world is Chicago, its North Shore and South Side communities, the Midwest in mid-century. In age and background, it's a best guess that Just is a former member of the 1950's club he is writing about, the educated boys of privilege, whose clothes, the tweeds, three-button sports jackets and loafers, become the patina of their class.
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