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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*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