An Unfinished Season

Overview

"The winter of the year my father carried a gun for his own protection was the coldest on record in Chicago." So begins Ward Just's An Unfinished Season, the winter in question a postwar moment of the 1950s when the modern world lay just over the horizon, a time of rabid anticommunism, worker unrest, and government corruption. Even the small-town family could not escape the nationwide suspicion and dread of "the enemy within." In rural Quarterday, on the margins of Chicago's North Shore, nineteen-year-old Wilson Ravan watches as his father's life ...

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Overview

"The winter of the year my father carried a gun for his own protection was the coldest on record in Chicago." So begins Ward Just's An Unfinished Season, the winter in question a postwar moment of the 1950s when the modern world lay just over the horizon, a time of rabid anticommunism, worker unrest, and government corruption. Even the small-town family could not escape the nationwide suspicion and dread of "the enemy within." In rural Quarterday, on the margins of Chicago's North Shore, nineteen-year-old Wilson Ravan watches as his father's life unravels. Teddy Ravan — gruff, unapproachable, secure in his knowledge of the world — is confronting a strike and even death threats from union members who work at his printing business. Wilson, in the summer before college, finds himself straddling three worlds when he takes a job at a newspaper: the newsroom where working-class reporters find class struggle at the heart of every issue, the glittering North Shore debutante parties where he spends his nights, and the growing cold war between his parents at home. These worlds collide when he falls in love with the headstrong daughter of a renowned psychiatrist with a frightful past in World War II. Tragedy strikes her family, and the revelation of secrets calls into question everything Wilson once believed.
From a distinguished chronicler of American social history and the political world, An Unfinished Season is a brilliant exploration of culture, politics, and the individual conscience.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Every once in a while -- not often, for sure -- an author does a reviewer a favor and writes a book with such elegance, élan and acuity that the only way to review it -- to give readers some sense of the pleasures that await them in it -- is to quote from it, at length and with gratitude. John Gregory Dunne did that a couple of months ago with another novel about the heartland, Nothing Lost; now Ward Just does it with An Unfinished Season. A beautiful, wise book.
The Washington Post
Kathy Balog
Identity, the force that defines and often misidentifies us, is at the heart of Ward Just's stunning and complex new novel, An Unfinished Season … It is the language that delivers added weight to the novel's enduring truism: the price we pay for the identity we embrace in ourselves or impose upon others.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1950s Chicago, Wilson Ravan, son of a printing magnate, spends his days with working-class reporters and his nights at high-society bashes. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fourteenth outing for Just (The Weather in Berlin, 2002, etc.), who, supple as ever, takes coming-of-age material and puts his distinctive stamp on it. Wils Ravan may live in farm country outside Chicago, but he's no rube; he's been sneaking into a Chicago jazz club since he was 15. Now 19 and wise beyond his years, his urbane narrative voice never seems discordant, a neat trick. His father, Teddy, a rock-ribbed Republican, owns a printing business, where he's a paternalistic employer, shocked when his people strike. Thinking the Reds may be stirring the pot-it's the early 1950's-Teddy hires strikebreakers and carries a gun. When a brick crashes through the window during family dinner, Wils realizes what it means to protect your loved ones and bonds with his father as never before. Then the strike peters out (no winners) and Wils lands a summer job with a Chicago tabloid while going to debutante parties at night. To the North Shore crowd, Wils is newspaper riff-raff; to the reporters, he's one of the exploiting classes. Caught between the two, he learns that perception can be everything. Then he meets Aurora, so different from the other airheads, no doubt because she's the daughter of Jack Brune, a divorced Freudian therapist. The rapport is immediate, but the two fight over secrets: He doesn't believe in having any, she does. Secrets, and their inevitability in even the closest relationships, are what the novel is about, and coming of age means only a partial de-coding of the mysteries. Wils will lose his virginity with Aurora, but their happiness is short-lived; the unpredictable Jack, a man of many secrets, shoots himself after a quarrel with his mistress Consuela, an exotic GreekCypriot. Aurora orders Consuela out of the house; Wils fails to take his girl's side, and the lovers become strangers. Wils emerges from his baptism of fire with enough mysteries to ponder for a lifetime. One of Just's best works: stuffed with surprises, sparkling with insights.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786270101
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 12/9/2004
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Ward Just is the author of fourteen previous novels, including the National book Award finalist Echo House and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Award. In a career that began as a war correspondent for Newsweek and the Washington Post, Just has lived and written in half a dozen countries, including Britain, France, and Vietnam. His characters often lead public lives as politicians, civil servants, soldiers, artists, and writers. It is the tension between public duty and private conscience that animates much of his fiction, including Forgetfulness. Just and his wife, Sarah Catchpole, divide their time between Martha’s Vineyard and Paris.

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