Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just

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Synopsis

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.

 

About Ward Just

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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.
 
Published March 1, 2011 by Mariner Books. 277 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Rodin's Debutante

Kirkus Reviews

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Flash forward a generation or two: Lee Goodell, son of local judge Erwin Goodell and future student at Ogden Hall, overhears a conversation about iniquitous events that have recently occurred about a month apart in New Jesper—first the brutal murder of a tramp, and second the even more savage rap...

Mar 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

The New York Times

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Then suddenly we’re in a new novel with a fresh setting (the fictional mill town of New Jesper, on Lake Michigan, north of Chicago), a new era (during and just after World War II, that “dynamic parenthesis in the progress of things in the small towns of the Midwest”) and a new point of view (a sc...

Mar 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Publishers Weekly

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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 opp...

Jan 03 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

New York Journal of Books

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“I was conscious of having entered a wider world,” Lee rather unnecessarily tells us, “Chicago and Hyde Park and the university together with my studio.” Although Mr. Just deftly places Lee in the divide between the haves and the have-nots from which the street violence of ensuing decades would e...

Mar 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Star Tribune

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Ward Just is so capable and confident that even though you're not sure where the story is taking you, you know it's going to be someplace interesting. And he does not disappoint in this powerful novel about secrets, privacy and justice.

Feb 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Book Reporter

When Goodell meets Bert Marks, the chairman of the Ogden Hall Board, he learns about the Chicago "can-do" spirit.

Mar 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

The Washington Times

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Decades later, Lee - the very opposite of the kind of boy for which the school was founded - attends Ogden Hall, and the gorgeous work of art inspires him to become a sculptor.

Jun 10 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Entertainment Weekly

A- Originally posted Feb 16, 2011 Published in issue #1143 Feb 25, 2011 Order article reprints

Feb 16 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Washington Independent Review of Books

In Rodin’s Debutante, truth, in all its ambiguity, is constructed not by the characters or the narrator but by the careful reader, whose understanding exceeds the limited vision of protagonist Lee Goodell and that of the nameless omniscient narrator who opens the novel by stating that “This is a ...

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Nelson Algren famously encapsulated the love-hate relationship with the city in 1951's Chicago: City on the Make: "Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real."

Mar 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Jacksonville.com

Scott Fitzgerald, author Just masterfully melds these themes through coming-of-age protagonist Lee Goodell, small-town boy, son of a judge, bright, passionate, but adrift, the "right" student for Ogden Hall and afterwards a rising sculptor who survives the mean streets of the big city and marries...

Apr 16 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

MostlyFiction Book Reviews

Similarly, Lee Goodell, the key protagonist of Rodin’s Debutante, takes his own unformed life and sculpts it, in an education that stretches from the boarding school at the Ogden Hall School of Boys to the mean south side city streets of Chicago.

Mar 02 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewed: Exiles in the Garden (4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2009), Forgetfulness (4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006), and An Unfinished Season (4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2004) The Story: Rodin?

Feb 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Shelf Awareness

Longtime ESPN basketball announcer Dick Vitale with the iPad version of his book Dickie V's ABCs and 1-2-3s.

Mar 14 2011 | Read Full Review of Rodin's Debutante

Reader Rating for Rodin's Debutante
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