Rodin's Debutante

Rodin's Debutante

Book - 2011
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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.

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ISBN: 9780547504193
Branch Call Number: Fiction
Characteristics: 263 p. ; 24 cm


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Jul 06, 2014

A closely observed study of life in Illinois between 1910 and the 1960's, this story of a young man growing into his artistic powers is occasionally diffuse and meandering, but in the end Ward Just pulls all the threads together.
Young Lee Goodell grows up in a small lakeside town that is shattered in the wake of a murder and a rape covered up by the city fathers, shadowed by the brutal millionaire who has founded the shady boys' boarding school he attends. And yet there is an innocence in the portraits of the small-town Midwest that is appealing. Just's prose is measured and flexible and conveys just enough irony to keep us looking beyond the obvious.

Dec 17, 2011

We follow Lee Goodell from small town Illinois through prep school at Ogden Hall to the University of Chicago, where he follows his dream, inspired by a Rodin sculpture, to become a sculptor himself.

I enjoyed it until I got near the end and now agree with this reviewer: "The writing is splendid, the scene impeccably set--but you can't help wondering where the novel is heading and what, exactly, it's about. ... Increasingly, the narrative goes from enjoyably unpredictable to bafflingly random." Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times.


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