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Rodin's Debutante por Ward Just
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Rodin's Debutante (edição 2011)

por Ward Just

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1096201,512 (3.89)2
Young Lee Goodell'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 and the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School.
Título:Rodin's Debutante
Autores:Ward Just
Informação:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 272 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca

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Rodin's Debutante por Ward Just

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Ward Just's newest novel, RODIN'S DEBUTANTE, is a fascinating and absorbing read however you want to interpret it. It is, perhaps more than anything else, a coming-of-age story, but it is also very much about "the enigma of class in America."

The story of young Lee Goodell, only child of a judge in the small town of New Jesper, north of Chicago, is one of privilege, private schools and university with a generous "allowance." The town has it's own "Committee" of upper class citizens who make the decisions about how the town will operate and exactly what the working class should know. Lee's father is the unofficial head of this group, which also includes the banker, the newspaper publisher-editor, the mayor, and a few other wealthy townsmen. The story pivots around two shocking unsolved crimes in the town, the details of which are squelched by the Committee 'for the good of the community." Nevertheless, these events mark the end of innocence for Lee and the end of the era of prosperity for the town. Soon after these events, Lee's family moves to the more prosperous and prestigious North Shore and Lee finishes his high school years in the private academy, Ogden Hall School for Boys, a struggling still-new institution already steeped in myths and lies which has its own dark secrets regarding its founder and its origins.

Lee, a serious student, makes the best of his years there, despite the school's doubtful pedigree and makeshift faculty. He finds an ally in the departing headmaster, August 'Gus' Allprice. (I couldn't help but wonder if 'Gus' was somehow meant to reflect some aspect of Auguste Rodin, whose rushed and imperfect sculpture of the nameless Chicago debutante graced the school's library.) With Allprice's aid (and funds from the founder), Lee helps to fashion a winning football team his senior year, one that would become legend as "the undefeated season." This accomplishment arose several times in the course of the narrative, prompting me to think often of Just's earlier novel, AN UNFINISHED SEASON, also a coming-of-age tale.

Lee Goodell goes on to the University of Chicago where he takes up sculpture, and, like Rodin, he works single-mindedly to his own vision, and also like Rodin, finds his work panned and written off by the Chicago critics. (But his first showing of his marbles are commercially successful.)

There are so many things to think about here it is hard to summarize them all. Allprice's seafaring background and his fascination with Melville's lesser-known South Seas novel, OMOO, and the headmaster's subsequent escape to Patagonia and the South Seas, along with his paramour, Anjelica. And then there is Lee's own discovery of Chicago's South Side with its own particular charms and dangers.

There is a Jamesian quality to the richly descriptive passages of the Chicago milieu of the early 1950s, and yet the dialogue between Lee and Laura is often clipped and Hemingwayesque. Just also indulges his obvious interest in music with his frequent allusions to the jazz and blues scenes of Chicago in the McCarthy era. These musical interludes made me remember another fine Chicago novel I read recently, Robert Hellenga's BLUES LESSONS.

One device which puzzled me here was the shift in point-of-view, from omniscient narrator to first-person, Lee's voice. The first time was when Lee described his childhood and early adolescence, up to the point of the shocking atrocities of rape and murder, the details of which the "Committee" suppressed, but which nevertheless changed the community forever. The second time Lee's voice surfaces is when he is older, married and has a meeting with the girl who had been raped. The change in POV is certainly effective, but I just couldn't figure out why it was implemented. Something to ponder for a while.

A rich and thought-provoking work, RODIN'S DEBUTANTE, no question. If there is a moral, it might be found in a sentiment from Victor Hugo mentioned toward the end - "a just government encouraged the rich and protected the poor." There's that matter of class in America again. I'm not entirely sure if I agree with Hugo, but it's something to think about. ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 30, 2012 |
Uhhhh....what? I obviously missed the point on this one. ( )
  Hazel66 | Aug 3, 2011 |
FIRST SENTENCE: This is a true story,or true as far as it goes.

The novel opens with the story of an anonymous debutante whose home is Astor Street in Chicago, traveling through Europe with her mother, who visits Rodin's atelier in Depot des Marbres, where the artist sculpts a bust of her for her eighteenth birthday.

We then meet Tommy Ogden near the start of the first World War, a wealthy man whose first love is shooting and the thrill of the hunt, at his dinner table, in a heated argument with Marie, his wife, who insists that she MUST have her own bust made. In front of their guests, including Bert Marks, the man who would continue to be his long-time attorney, Tommy finally breaks the news to Marie that he is donating the house his father built; and that she will need to clear out her things before he gets back from his shooting trip to Idaho. Ogden Hall, with 42 rooms, a vast library, a solarium, garden room, and a kitchen the size of a tennis court, becomes The Ogden Hall School for Boys, designed to be a prep school that will accept even those boys that other prep schools turned out or away.

Flash forward In New Jesper in the 1940's, a mill town whose main industry is the Bing Factory, turning out tennis rackets by the thousands. Lee Goodell's father is a probate judge and part of the circle of small-town power, including Mayor Bannerman, Walter Bing, Police Chief Grosza, and Alfred Swan, who make the decisions that keep the town going. When a hobo is brutally murdered, Lee is forbidden to wander and play down by the tracks. When a girl named Magda Serra is brutally raped at the high school, the power circle decide to downplay the publicity, and eventually Magda and her mother move away.

The rape is the final straw for Lee's mother, however, and she finally convinces her husband to move away from his New Jester roots and take up residence in North Shore. The search for a good boy's school ends up with Lee attending Ogden Hall, where Tommy Ogden and his wife Marie have achieved legendary status, and the Rodin bust in the dining hall is rumored to be that of Marie.

The reader follows Lee throughout his Ogden time, with a headmaster named Gus who feels that the lessons in Melville's Omoo are good lessons for the boys to learn, but who eventually leaves for Patagonia with his mistress Anjelica. Lee has a short encounter with Tommy himself, who encourages his dream to be a sculptor.

We continue to follow Lee through his university life, his marriage, his travels to Europe, and his eventual meeting with Magda years after the event that shaped both of their lives.

The novel is low-key, but with some larger-than-life characters, and a cathouse tying it all together. The writing is superb, but, for this reader, the novel lacked a cohesive plot or meaning. It flows, but it ends up flowing into a wall of nothingness. I personally like to see more concrete meaning, more of a point, more of a connection with the characters.

QUOTES (from an eGalley; may be different in final copy):

Tommy Ogden was unpredictable to say the least of it and an atmosphere of violence followed him wherever he went.

They were serious people, the jazzmen. They had gravity. There was not a mill on earth they had not been through time and again. That was the source of their music and while you wouldn't wish the mills on anyone, something good came of it, this original American art form imitated everywhere but never duplicated because it rose from a specific condition.

Fact is, the saint needs the devil more than he thinks he does. Without the devil, the saint's just another old fart standing on a soapbox talking to himself.

. . . where he came from secrets were treasured. They were the coin of the realm. If it wasn't a secret it wasn't serious.

Writing: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Characters: 3 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 3 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING: 3.375 out of 5 stars ( )
  jewelknits | Mar 10, 2011 |
Great American Author. No. I've given him enough chances.
  jconnell | Mar 7, 2011 |
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Young Lee Goodell'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 and the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School.

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