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Novel of the week: Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just

Ward Just’s 17th novel sidesteps “almost every convention” associated with coming-of-age novels, said Steven Heighton in The New York Times.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)

Ward Just’s 17th novel sidesteps “almost every convention” associated with coming-of-age novels, said Steven Heighton in The New York Times. Where most such works are limited by the voices of their “callow” protagonists, Just’s story jumps among multiple characters who contribute to shaping Lee Goodell, the story’s Illinois-born protagonist, into the sculptor he becomes. First among Lee’s influencers is the “pathologically private” millionaire who founded the rural boarding school that Lee attends. The young man’s education at Ogden Hall, home to an “impressive array of characters,” forms the backbone of the book’s first half. The more disparate second half finds Lee continuing his unconventional education on Chicago’s South Side, said Michael Upchurch in The Seattle Times. As Lee tries to make it as an artist, Just finds ways to raise various “hot-button issues” about crime-plagued 1960s Chicago. But the narrative, once “enjoyably unpredictable,” becomes “bafflingly random.” Strong as the writing is, the book “simply doesn’t hang together.”

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