Echo House ; A Dangerous Friend ; etc.) never exceed a tidy length. But they contain such a deep understandi"/>
 

AN UNFINISHED SEASON

Ward S. Just, Author
Ward S. Just, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (251p) ISBN 978-0-618-03669-1
Reviewed on: 05/17/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
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Just's novels (Echo House ; A Dangerous Friend ; etc.) never exceed a tidy length. But they contain such a deep understanding of the long arm of history, the pernicious abuse of power and the folly of human nature that their intellectual and emotional weight should be measured in metaphorical tonnage. An assured chronicler of the American character, in his 14th novel Just returns to his own roots in the Midwest, examining the heartland as a state of mind. In the 1950s, narrator Wils Ravan's family lives in a Chicago suburb. At 19, about to graduate from high school, Wils is an observer of his parents' strained marriage and his father Teddy's stubborn resolve to defeat the union organizers behind the strike at his printing factory. Wils's summer job is as a copy boy at a Chicago tabloid, where he becomes aware of the routine corruption in city government and finds himself complicit in the yellow journalism that destroys reputations. On another level, he attends dozens of country club dances given for debutantes on the North Shore. At one of these events he meets Aurora Brule, the strong-willed daughter of a mysteriously aloof society psychiatrist, Jason "Jack" Brule, and they fall in love. Jack Brule, meanwhile, becomes the novel's most compelling character. Withdrawn, secretive, obsessive and "passionately coiled," he hides a harrowing memory that explodes at great cost. The summer's events leave Wils ruefully disillusioned and aware of his lost innocence, but committed to the social and ethical code that will guide his life. It's always a pleasure to read Just's prose—crisp and intelligent, animated by dry humor and by a realism that is too humane to be cynical. This novel, with its resonant questions about the class divisions that most Americans refuse to acknowledge, is one of his most trenchant works to date. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (July 8)

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