The first short section presents Tommy Odgen, an early 20th century Illinoisan whose inherited railroad money allows him to indulge in his favorite pastime, shooting animals. A disagreement with his wife leads him to decide to found a boys’ school in their mansion.
Cut to mid-century, when young Lee Goodell, son of a judge in New Jesper, overhears his father and other town leaders discussing how to suppress news the vicious rape of one of Lee’s schoolmates. Of course keeping it quiet is intended for the girl’s sake as well as the town’s. Lee’s mother no longer feels safe, so she persuades her husband to move the family to a “nice” suburb of Chicago. Lee is enrolled in the Ogden School for Boys, where Tommy Ogden still makes covert visits. After he graduates and enrolls at the University of Chicago, Lee studies sculpture and reluctantly works in a South Side health clinic. Then Lee finds out that the raped girl from his school has returned to the area and wants to find out what he remembers about the unsolved crime.
Ogden’s love of hunting, the rape, Lee being attacked on the South Side streets, and injured victims in the clinic weave violence into this coming-of-age story. Yet except for the mugging, most of the violence happens at one remove from Lee, so the impact on the reader is minimal. The storytelling tends to the non-linear, yet was not difficult to follow. Ogden was a more memorable character than Lee. The author joins a current literary trend of omitting quotation marks. Call me reactionary, but I think the technique detracts from, rather than aids, the stories that employ it. Bottom line: portions of this novel were interesting, but the whole didn’t live up to the better parts.