Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just. It's the esteemed author's seventeeth book and while I've never read any of his other novels like Echo House and A Family Trust, I've had plenty of friends insisting I do so. They are passionate and persuasive in trying to convince me to crack open a Just book--in much the same way they once told me I'd like Robert Stone and Mikhail Bulgakov. Those recommendations turned out to be mostly good, so I guess I'd better not say "no" to Ward Just. Rodin's Debutante seems like a good place to start. Here's the publisher's blurb for what looks like a complex plot, but has been praised for its "spare prose [which] packs a solid emotional punch":
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.Need a little more convincing? Read Harvey Freedenberg's excellent review, which agrees with the Chicago Sun-Times' assertion that Just is "an undersung American treasure." Freedenberg writes, "There's probably no serious novelist working today whose productivity is so unfairly disproportionate to his public recognition."
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.
If you'd like a chance to win a copy of Rodin's Debutante, all you have to do is answer this question:
What war did Just cover during his time as a journalist at The Washington Post? (The answer can be found in this 2004 interview with the author at Bookslut)
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until the contest closes at midnight on March 31--at which time I'll draw the winning name. I'll announce the lucky reader on April 1. No foolin'.