Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chernow's Washington a fat, but fine biography

Book 92: Washington by Ron Chernow 

The writing is serviceable, the research impeccable and the portrayal of the man, who even in his lifetime was proclaimed "The Father of His Country," is balanced.

And its title is the smallest thing about Washington, Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington. This book is fat.

As these things go, it's not morbidly obese. There's 817 pages of text. With notes, bibliography, index and other addendum the entire book stretches to 904 pages. And it's a single volume, not three. 

Still, it felt as if it took as long just to read Chernow's lengthy section on Washington leadership during the Revolutionary War as it did for that first wrangle with the British to play out. (Nine years if you've forgotten your high school civics.)

In a brisk 294 pages, David McCullough gives us a lively -- and sufficient -- account of one critical year in the war in his 2005 history 1776.  James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn neatly summarize Washington's entire presidency in fewer than 160 pages in George Washington -- their entry in the uniformly stellar American Presidents Series by Times Books.

Such comparisons are not entirely fair, or apt.  Chernow is furnishing us with an updated biography of the entire life of Gen. George, while McCullough, Burns and Dunn are providing us with snapshots. Yet the problems inherent in such a lengthy work remain, and that is the author's tendency to include material that is extraneous and to be repetitive.

Do we really need to know in whose home George stayed during a certain winter of the war? Let me answer that -- it's on a need to know basis and no one needs to know.

Chernow tends to repeat certain points that he wants to make. He's like the proverbial Chicago voter who goes to the polls early and often. Themes that are repeated include Washington's bad teeth, his icy reserve that hides a violent temper and a sentimental streak, his flirtations that came up to the line but never crossed it (as far as we know, let it be understood: George liked the ladies) and George's profligate spending.  (He also liked nice stuff.)

On a positive note, Chernow, who also wrote a fine and fat biography of Alexander Hamilton in 2004, knows this cast of characters especially well.  He is adept at helping us understand the tempestuous relationships between George, Hamilton, John Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

He makes the political struggle between the Federalists and Republicans vivid and current, and neatly explains many of the heated issues of the day from Citizen Genet to Shay's Rebellion to Washington's distrust of political parties.

Chernow's Washington is a solid biography and a worthy read. It all comes down to a reader's willingness to devote a considerable chunk of time to one book.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cornwell stumbles with The Fort

Book 91: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I thoroughly enjoy Cornwell's Saxon Series and Agincourt was a treat, but The Fort fails to rise to the standards of those books.

Perhaps it the particular slice of Revolutionary War history that Cornwell chooses to recount -- a rather dreary standoff between British troops and Massachusetts militia.

Known as the Penobscot Expedition, the militia, accompanied by an impressive fleet of ships from the Continental Navy, attempt to seize Fort George from the British.  The doughty Brits are out-numbered and initially the fort is virtually indefensible, which would seem to promise a quick American victory.

Victory is in the offing when the Americans quickly gain control of the high ground and are poised to charge the fort.  But the American leader of the campaign falters and the quick victory promptly turns into an extended stalemate.

The Americans are riven by dissension and poor leadership.  They never do seize the fort. Instead, additional British ships arrive and the Penobscot Expedition becomes the worst naval disaster in U.S. history until Pearl Harbor.

The most interesting aspect of The Fort is Cornwell's portrayal of Paul Revere.  We know of Revere as a brave patriot largely, Cornwell points out in the book's historical notes, due to Longfellow's inaccurate poem. Cornwell depicts Revere as a difficult man, who blithely ignored orders from his superiors, and who may have been both a thief and a coward.

It may be that Cornwell's more at home with swords and long bows than muskets, but The Fort is a disappointing effort from this master of historical fiction.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hamilton's Winter of the Wolf Moon a rewarding thriller

Book 89: Winter of the Wolf Moon by Steve Hamilton

I've now read three books by Steve Hamilton -- the first two entries in his Alex McKnight series and his one-off, The Lock Artist -- and I will admit that I am an unabashed fan.

The setting, the characters, the plots and his fast-moving narratives make Hamilton's thrillers a pleasure to read.  But, perhaps, the best element of the McKnight series -- set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- is the humor.

Hamilton's use of humor reminds me of Robert Crais.  Humor is largely absent from many thrillers. You won't find it in the writing of Michael Connelly or Ian Rankin. Not to knock them, I thoroughly enjoy their work.

But Hamilton, like Crais, brings a certain attitude to his novels that seems to say "this isn't rocket science or literary fiction, let's have some fun."  Hamilton's world view is a bubble off center.  He's enjoying himself and wants the reader to do so too.

Book 90: Disturbance by Jan Burke

I've also been a fan of Jan Burke's Irene Kelly series.  As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I've enjoyed Kelly's newsroom antics at the Las Piernas News Express.  But with Disturbance I'm beginning to have my doubts about the continuing viability of the series.

This is Burke's first Irene Kelly novel in five years. In between was the awful, The Messenger, which appears to have been Burke's effort to tap into the hunger for supernatural thrillers among a sizable population of readers. 

The Messenger didn't work and I can only hope that Burke doesn't venture into that territory again.

Yet Burke's commitment to the Irene Kelly series seems lacking.  Disturbance, a sequel to Bones, just doesn't have the same oomph of her past novels.   In the opening of Disturbance the serial killer, who almost dispatched Irene in Bones, is paralyzed and in prison.  It isn't long before his paralysis has been miraculously cured and he escapes from prison.

But wait . . . as they say on all those late-night commercials . . . there's more.  Aiding his escape and inevitable bid to kidnap Irene is a trio of admirers, who, as it happens, are the serial killer's sons.  Burke observes that the killer is known for planning well in advance, but this is taking planning to the extreme.

Irene is kidnapped. It doesn't feel like a spoiler to disclose that plot point. You knew it was coming.  After her kidnapping, events do unfold in a surprising, yet not particularly satisfactory, manner.  Sad to say, it feels as if Burke mailed this one in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hadley takes the reader on a rewarding trip on The London Train

Book 87: The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Two people meet on a train to London. Improbably, their chance meeting leads to a love affair. It is intense, but brief.  Both are married; the man has children and makes clear that they are what's important to him.

Tessa Hadley charts the course of this affair and its effects upon the man and woman in the beautifully told, closely observed The London Train. The novel is really two novellas, one belonging to the man and one to the woman.

The woman is only mentioned in passing in the first novella, The London Train. Paul, her erstwhile lover, is reeling. His mother has just died and now he learns that his oldest daughter, from his first marriage, is missing.  He later finds her living with a Polish man, safe, but pregnant.

Paul flees his rural home, leaving his current wife and two young daughters.  He lives for a spell with his daughter and her lover, entertaining thoughts of an affair with a woman his daughter's age.  

In the second novella, Only Children, Cora has fled London and her husband for the consolation of her childhood home. It soon becomes clear that the affair has had a more lasting, unsettling effect upon Cora than Paul. 

The affair fulfilled the needs of both Paul and Cora.  Paul is a sexual predator, blithely unconcerned with the impact of his cheating on his wife or Cora.  Cora is unaware of her needs until Paul stirs something deep within her. Now -- hurt, confused, angry -- she withdraws from life.

Hadley has given the reader a subtle, powerful study of how one event effects two people so differently. It is honest and true and disquieting.  The London Train is a challenging journey with a rewarding destination.

Book 88: All The Time In The World by E.L. Doctorow

Readers of The New Yorker will recognize many of the stories in this collection by celebrated novelist E.L. Doctorow. Seven of the 12 stories were originally published in that magazine.

It is an uneven collection.  Some of the stories are superb, yet others fail to meet a reader's expectation.  Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate feels incomplete. It is as if Doctorow couldn't fit these pieces into a novel, hated to see them go unused and so here they appear.

The solution is to skip this book -- there are far better story collections on the bookstore shelves just now -- and subscribe to The New Yorker.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stross rules, Robopocalypse falters

Rule 34: Generally accepted internet rule that states that pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject. (Urban Dictionary)

Singularity: Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than human intelligence through technological means. (Wikipedia) 

Book 85: Rule 34 by Charles Stross

Book 86: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

There's a commonality between these two novels that I'll let the reader self-identify.

Rule 34 is written by Charles Stross, a veteran science fiction writer, and Robopocalypse is by Daniel H. Wilson, who has written a handful of books, including How to Build a Robot Army and How to Survive a Robot Uprising. (Whether those previous titles are fiction or non-fiction, I don't know.)

The title, Rule 34, is a bit of misdirection from Charlie. His protagonist, Edinburgh Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, heads a crime unit known as the Rule 34 Squad.  But, despite the title and Liz's nominal police responsibilities, this isn't about Internet porn.  

Instead, Liz is caught up in a murder investigation. Actually, she's caught up investigating multiple homicides. Several of the Edinburgh underworld are dying in bizarre fashion -- killed by seemingly harmless household appliances. 

Later, Liz and her colleagues learn that the murders aren't confined to Edinburgh. Someone is killing off a passel of bad guys in innovative ways.  

I could sum up Rule 34 as standard Stross fare, but if you haven't read him you wouldn't know that means an edgy, inventive thriller with a jaundiced views of how the future looks from here.  It's probable enough to be disturbing, improbable enough to be deliciously disturbing.  

There have been some new entries recently -- notably authors Mieville and Bacigalupi -- but Stross is still the reigning king of cool among today's crop of science fiction writers.

Straining the bounds of probability is Wilson's Robopocalypse. The comparisons to Michael Crichton on the inside flap of the dust jacket are an indication of what the reader can expect.  No, in this case, Wilson's book doesn't read like a chubby movie script, but it is a breezy little read that wants so badly to be a bestseller.

A full-fledged A.I. (artificial intelligence) is loose in the world and it's pissed.  It's been "killed" something like 14 times before and determined that that won't happen again. It turns its fury on humanity. Humanity wins. That's not a spoiler. Wilson furnishes the outcome in the novel's first sentence.

That does let some of the suspension out of Robopocalypse.  What Wilson does, in lieu of suspense, is give us some nasty "isolated incidents" followed up zero hour, when the machines turn against mankind, followed by man's steps to survive in various locations from a major city to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. And, finally, all out war.

We win -- the dinosaurs are herded back in their cage. Well, maybe we win. There's just a suggestion the A.I. may have survived. (Hell, it's more of an outright promise that a sequel is coming. The truth is the villain dies in these books about as often as one of Marvel's costumed heroes.)

After finishing Robopocalypse, my first thought was: "Well, it wasn't as bad as I expected." It's a quick little read. Nicely paced. But I would have liked one idea. Just one.  My thoughts then went to Robert Sawyer's provocative WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch and Wonder), which dares to contemplate a benign singularity.

Conclusion: Read Rule 34. Stross is good. Very good.   And if you still have an urge to read about A.I.s, turn to Robert Sawyer's fine trilogy.  Now that's an idea.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gone With The Wind an American classic

Book 81: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I only read six books the entire month of July.  The reason is that Gone With The Wind consumed half the month.   This is one big ass book.  My paperback copy runs to 1,448 pages.  

It's not difficult to read. Mitchell has a comfortable style that invites the reader in, but there's just so much ground to cover. The novel ranges from the halcyon days prior to the war, to the war (still known in these parts as the War of Northern Aggression) and finally to the post-war Reconstruction.

It is not THE great American novel, but it is a great American novel that warrants a place alongside such classics as Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby.  Interesting, isn't it, how many of the books we view as American classics are about race and class. 

Gone With The Wind is a flawed book. (I'm not certain there are any books I'd consider flawless.)  I'll tackle Mitchell's missteps first.

The book is wildly overwritten. Mitchell would have benefited from an editor who would have trimmed this book by several hundred pages.  Another alternative would have been to split it into three books. It's structure lends itself easily to a trilogy.

A better editor could have trimmed the purple prose, too.  Mitchell's prose style can be too ornate, too flowery, too to much.  Many of the love scenes, whether it's Scarlett and Rhett or Scarlett and Ashley are far too over-heated to be effective. 

And, yes, the novel is racist.  But I wouldn't change that.  I think to eliminate the backward racial attitudes of the Southern planters would be to excise the heart of this novel.   How else would we understand how demeaning racism is -- for the racist and the subject of his contempt -- if these passages were not left to stand.

I understand that it is offensive and hurtful, but seems an accurate portrayal of the way of thinking once widely prevalent throughout the South.  Scarlet and her peers think nothing of the stereotypes that they impose on  blacks -- who are perceived as lazy, as children, as witless apes, as nothing more than an accumulation of base desires. Yet they have an affection for the blacks who live among them; affection expressed, unfortunately, through paternalism and condescension.

Gone With The Wind, published in 1936, was only a generation or two removed from the Civil War. The attitudes and beliefs that fostered the outbreak of war had not vanished by the time of the book's publication -- sadly,  many of those attitudes and beliefs still exist today.

It shocking to find the Ku Klux Klan -- an evil blight on our country's history -- portrayed as a noble band of husbands merely seeking to protect the honor of Southern (white) women.  We know them today as a bunch of violent, cruel men, threatened by the cultural upheavals brought about by the end of slavery, who calmed their fears by wreaking vengeance on the most vulnerable segment of Southern society -- the free black.

Yet, set against Mitchell's defense of the Klan is her all too accurate indictment of Reconstruction.  One can't help but wonder how difference the post-war South might have been had Lincoln lived.  He was not their worst enemy, but their best friend.  Under Lincoln's leadership the South would have been invited to return to the Union with leniency and forbearance.  

The most brilliant aspect of Gone With The Wind is how Mitchell uses Scarlett and Melanie to embody the South's two difference responses to Reconstruction.  For Mitchell, Melanie represented the old South -- proud, noble and sacrificial.  Scarlett is the new South. Driven by fears she does not understand, Scarlett will lie and cheat and willingly make unwise alliances.  She may hate Northerners of every stripe, despise Carpetbaggers and Scallywags, but she never hesitates to do business with them.

It is the relationship between Scarlett and Melanie -- not between Scarlett and Rhett or Scarlett and Ashley -- that is at the heart of Mitchell's novel.  It is the love between these two women -- a love Scarlett never truly recognizes until its lost -- that establishes Gone With The Wind as a great American novel.

+ + + + +

A quick update on one of my 2011 reading challenges: With the completion of Gone With The Wind I have only five of 12 books remaining in the challenge issued by The Roof Beam Reader.

The 2011 TBR (To Be Read) Pile Challenge is to read 12 books from your to-be-read pile in 12 months. The challenge began in February, so I am in good position with several months remaining.

This is where I stand:

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. War and Peace by Mr. Tolstoy
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
6. Under the Dome by Stephen King
7. White Noise by Don Delillo
8. Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra
9. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
10. Winter in the Blood by James Welch
11. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
12. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just another day in Paradise for Steve Hamilton

Two thrillers, both from August. There's one book remaining from July, but it warrants its own post -- and that's coming soon. Here are the thrillers:

Book 82: The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson

The Dewey Decimal System is an odd little mash-up -- a standard thriller with a post-apocalyptic overlay.  It's notable for carrying the imprint of Akashic Books, the small New York publishing house that has produced all those Noir collections as well as Go the Fuck to Sleep.

The Dewey Decimal System is set in New York City, where a series of terrorist attacks have brought the city, and America, to edge of ruin. The protagonist, Dewey Decimal, is a hired killer who derives his names from living in the New York City Library where he's attempting to re-order the books when he's not on some lethal mission.

Dewey's got skills, as demonstrated in one scene where he guns down a couple of heavies with a bit of John Wu-inspired gunplay.  But he's not certain where those skills were learned nor does he know if his memories -- spotty, at best -- are real or implanted.

The plot doesn't matter much.  There's a couple of big-time heavies -- standard Eastern European mouth-breathers -- and a dasmel in distress, who may be the most deadly character we meet. Dewey has to decide where his loyalties lies.

As I said, the plot is incidental to the action-driven narrative.  Don't be surprised if Dewey appears for act two (in a second book by Larson).  I might pick that second book up -- then again I might not.

Book 84: A Cold Day In Paradise by Steve Hamilton

What I will pick up, and soon, is the next book by Steve Hamilton in the Alex McKnight series.

I was introduced to Hamilton with a recent one-off entitled The Lock Artist. It was good, very good.   And I thought about following up on Hamilton's earlier book, but didn't until a recent vacation.

A few weeks back I drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan -- the Yoop -- which included an overnight in Paradise, Sault Ste. Marie (the Soo) and a visit to Whitefish Bay.

Hamilton was driving around the U.P. at the same time I was there. His McKnight series is set in Paradise, where McKnight, a former Detroit cop, has gone to nurse his wounds after he takes three bullets and his partner is killed.

A Cold Day in Paradise won both the Shamus and Edgar awards for Best First Novel. It's easy to understand why. The novel is character-driven.  Starting with McKnight, Hamilton lovingly portrays a cast that could easily have been walking around the Yoop while I was there.

Setting is another Hamilton strong suite. The U.P., including Paradise and The Soo, feels like characters in the drama. I don't about other readers, but for me it's always a thrill to read about geography I've tred.

Characters and setting. Yet Hamilton doesn't neglect the plot. He depicts a plausible series of events that threaten McKnight's life.  And even as he builds to a resolution there are surprises -- you know they are coming, but aren't certain what to expect -- that result in a satisfying thriller that leaves you wanting more.

Fortunately, there are more and I brought them all back with me from The Yoop. Just another day in Paradise.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Story collections from Lee Smith and Ha Jin

Two short story collections, one from July, the other from August.

Book 80:  Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith

I stumbled upon the writing of Lee Smith by pure serendipity.

I was at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville to hear Colum McCann. Smith was on the program with him.  I had a copy of Let the Great World Spin that I planned to have McCann sign. 

Nothing by Smith, and that made me feel badly for her. So I picked up a copy of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, which she signed. What the hell.

More than a year went by before I picked up the book again and started to read.

What the hell? This was good. Very good.  Smith has a knack for capturing the off-beat, the oddball who views the world just a little differently than the rest of us.  And she's got this sly sense of humor that creeps into most of the stories; sometimes she's laughing with the characters, sometimes she's laughing with you.

Toastmaster, about a little boy and his mother in an Italian restaurant in Florida, is one of the funniest stories that I have ever read.  And it's a story that I will return to in the years ahead. It's that good. 

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger is a uniformly rich and rewarding collection of stories. I've already added two more books by Smith to my read pile. What the hell.

Book 83: A Good Fall by Ha Jin

A Good Fall by Ha Jin isn't uniformly rich and rewarding. The stories make you wonder why Jin doesn't stick with writing novels.

The stories feel clumsy and unfinished and many of them feel similar. Jin is going back over ground he's already plowed, which leaves the reading flipping back through the book thinking "wait a minute, didn't I already this story?"

There are currently some superb story collections in the bookstores. This isn't one of them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Technically, A Visit From the Goon Squad is a great book. Technically

More thoughts on July reading:

Book 78: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Technically, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad -- winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize -- is a great book.  Technically.

Egan shows stunning facility in her ability to weave these vignettes, snapshots of characters' lives, into a coherent whole.  The beginning and ending offer a perfect example of her expertise.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to two characters who reappear throughout the book.  The emphasis in the opening pages is on one character, but by the final pages the emphasis is on the other. The manner in which Egan flips the emphasis over the course of the book from one character to another is neatly done, and an admirable piece of writing.

Egan also has an ability to introduce a minor character in the course of the narrative and to sum up the arc of his (or her) life in only a few descriptive phrases, phrases that are interjected almost as a casual footnote, but which have a powerful effect.

Yet, I have reservations about this novel as I did with Egan's Look at Me, which was shortlisted for the 2001 National Book Award.  Egan tells a great story, but there is a noticeable absence of passion for her characters. It's not that they are flat or wooden -- they're not -- yet it's almost impossible to care for them.

They're less people on a page than devices to advance an intricate story, cleverly told.

Book 79: Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Lockdown was shortlisted for the National Book Award in the category of Young People's Literature. It doesn't hold up well against such books as Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird (which won) or Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker.

And I can't imagine Lockdown having much appeal to any teen who stumbles upon it. It's transparent in its message, didactic, preachy and unrealistic. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Snowman a conventional thriller in an unconventional setting

Yes, I've been tardy. No postings for any of the books read during July or August.  So let's change that . . .

Book 76: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

A little neural clutter to dispatch before I can even think about The Snowman.

First, what is it with detectives named Harry? I mean there's Dirty Harry, made famous by craggy Clint Eastwood, and there's Michael Connelly's marvelous Harry Bosch. And now Norwegian author Jo Nesbo gives us Harry Hole.

And, yes, that's the second bit of clutter. "Harry Hole." Hairy Hole! Get it?

I'm having trouble with that one.  I mean Nesbo's fictional detective is every bit the brilliant asshole the genre demands. He has issues with authority, trouble maintaining personal relationships and  is an alcoholic.  But to blatantly name the guy Harry Hole. Can't we let the reader reach his own conclusions.

And then I clock that Nesbo's Norwegian and that the way Hole is pronounced in Norwegian is not the way it is pronounced in English. A little bit of Google magic and we discover that it's pronounced HEU-leh. That I can live with. So, on the book.

I've been late to the party America's given for Scandinavian authors like Nesbo and Stieg Larsson. My attitude is that if I'm not ahead of the curve, I sure as hell don't want to be behind it. Case in point: I have yet to read any book with Harry Potter in the title. (And that's another damn Harry. I think I've known one Harry my entire life, so how do you account for the preponderance of Harrys in literature? I can't.)

The Snowman is creepy, and by any measure that's exactly what a reader is looking for in a Scandinavian thriller. Dark. Moody. Not just cool, but icy.

There's a serial killer on the loose. Harry sees it quickly, but no one believes him. Serial killers, like politicians from Texas, are the unique creation of America.

But Harry's instincts are spot on. A killer is on the loose and his murders -- seemingly unconnected -- are becoming increasingly gruesome.  And, again in keeping with genre conventions, the killer is taunting Harry, issuing that age old invitation to find me before I kill again.

There's plenty of suspects, yet each one is eliminated as we build to the finale in which the killer's true identity is revealed . . . but not before Harry is put the supreme test.

By the time we reach this point in the book the killer's identity is all too apparent. Consequently, in a nice authorial concession, Nesbo reveals the killer and the motives behind his insane spree just as realization dawns for the reader. This clever bit of writing actually serves to ratchet up the tension, because now that we know who the killer really is we also know what's truly at stake. 

The Snowman is a satisfying thriller, but not overly original.  Conventions are honored.  But the Scandinavian overlay makes for an interesting change of pace.  I'll read Nesbo again, if for no other reason then I've gone to the trouble of nailing down the accurate pronunciation of Harry's last name.

Book 77: Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just

Any book by Ward Just -- even one that falls short as Rodin's Debutante does --  has elements so well constructed, characters so finely drawn, that it's worth reading despite the letdown.

Rodin's Debutante revolves (briefly) around the founder of an exclusive Illinois boy's school and a student at that school who becomes a talented Chicago sculptor. The story never adds up to much, and that's the downfall of this book, which might have benefited from an additional 100 pages.

One of Just's talents is to accurately portray a certain kind of man, to reveal what motivates him and to show us how and why he lives as he does.  Just is also skilled at striking a certain tone, capturing an atmosphere of elegance and restraint, that, in many cases, is as internal as it is external.

The best, and worst, that can be said about Rodin's Debutante is that it is an interesting book. Sadly, it could have been much more.