An Unfinished Season

An Unfinished Season, by Ward Just, is a coming of age story that highlights the conflicts of nineteen year old Wilson Ravan (Wils) as well as those of post-war America in the early 1950s. Wils lives with his family in a wealthy and rural North Shore suburb called Quarterday. His father owns a printing company and the family is well-off. Although Mr. Raven's family is solidly midwestern, Wils' mother is from the East Coast. She once harbored hopes that her husband would become a partner in her father's New York law firm.

The reader sees their marriage through the lens of their teenage son. When the workers of the printing company go on strike for better wages and benefits, an idealogical rift occurs between the couple. This is a time of strife between labor and management. Unions are gaining strength as workers wish to share in the new post-war economic boon. There is blatant racism as African American soldiers return from the front to face intense discrimination. Discord in the house is mirrored by labor unrest.

Wils' summer job is that of an intern for a Chicago paper. He has gotten the job because his father golfs with its publisher. Ward Just, a former journalist, portrays the news room in all its excitement and grittiness. The down-to-earth reporters secretly resent Wils and his social advantages.

At a debutant party, one of the guests thinks Wils' summer job is a form of "slumming." "Why would anyone want to be a newspaper reporter? It's so sordid, what you have to see and do. It's so--vulgar. That colored girl, for example. The stories about her throw such a bad light on things, accentuating the negative, makes us all feel rotten, as if we're being accused of something." (p. 111)

At one of these parties, Wils meets the alluring Aurora and her respected psychiatrist father. He is drawn into their world, which is intensely complicated. Dr. Brule is divorced, a veteran of WWII, lives with his daughter and South American lover, and suffers from what we recognize now as post-traumatic stress. His relationship with the enigmatic Dr. Brule, as well as his own code of honor, play a huge role in his affair with Aurora.

As Michael Upchurch writes in the Seattle Times (Sunday, July 18, 2004): "An Unfinished Season stays tightly wrought throughout, even as it hones in on 'a loose end that will stay loose' in Wils' life. For Just, as for Wils, the mystery of that "loose end" exerts considerably more fascination than any mere journalistic fact."

An Unfinished Season contains crisp writing and an engaging plot. It is a period piece which vividly depicts Chicago--its music, its politics, its sights and its sounds.

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