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Rodin's Debutante Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547504195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547504193
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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

3.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 25 customer reviews
Not great literature, but a good fast read.
Charles E. Carlson
The problem for me is that many plot lines went nowhere and seemed to just hang there.
Marcia Epstein
There was little to no character development throughout the story.
C. A. Boswell

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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There's no other way to say it - if you've not yet read a novel by Ward Just you've been seriously deprived. Don't waste a minute more. If you are familiar with Just's writing you know that RODIN'S DEBUTANTE, his 17th novel, will be just as trenchant, thoughtful, and absorbing as his others.

This time Just takes us to pre-World War I Chicago where wealthy Tommy Ogden, the heir to a railroad fortune, refuses to give his carping, sarcastic wife the money she wants to have a bust of herself made by Rodin. Yes, the French master himself. Instead, Ogden proposes to turn his mansion into a boys' school - Ogden Hall School. This is a shock to Ogden's wife as he is a taciturn, private man whose interests appear to be only sketching and hunting. Yet, the decision is made.

Years later Lee Goodwill will be a student at Ogden Hall. Lee's coming of age is at the center of Just's story, and introduced by a time and place change - the end of World War II and a mill town bordering Lake Michigan. It is at Ogden Hall that Lee encounters his idealistic headmaster, Gus Allprice, who becomes weary of his students' ennui and leaves.

As time passes Lee is living on Chicago's South Side and volunteers at a free clinic where he meets Dr. Petitbon who is in charge of the clinic. It is at this point that Lee the youth morphs into Lee the man. He has chosen a life of relative poverty in order to become a sculptor, enjoying creative freedom.

This is a fascinating story, perceptive and deep. Don't miss it.

- Gail Cooke
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