The vixen A novel

Francine Prose, 1947-

Book - 2021

1953. Simon Putnam, newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, gets his first assignment: editing The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, a lurid bodice-ripper improbably based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. It is a potboiler intended to shore up the firm's failing finances. Simon's mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg's; his parents mourn Ethel's death. Simon meets The Vixen author, reckless, seductive Anya Partridg...e, ensconced in her opium-scented boudoir in a luxury Hudson River mental asylum. Simon comes to realize that everyone is not what they seem, that everyone is keeping secrets, and that ordinary events may conceal a diabolical plot. -- adapted from jacket

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Subjects
Genres
Historical fiction
Novels
Published
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
316 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9780063012141
0063012146
Main Author
Francine Prose, 1947- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Newly graduated from Harvard as a folklore and mythology major, Simon returns to his Jewish family's Coney Island apartment, where they watch coverage of the June 19, 1953, execution of convicted spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in horror. Simon's migraine-assaulted mother knew Ethel when they were girls. With the intervention of his well-connected uncle, Simon is hired by a posh publishing house, where he is thrown into a moral quagmire when the intimidating publisher makes him editor of an atrocious potboiler loosely based on the Rosenberg case, The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic. How can Simon betray his family and his values by inflicting this travesty on the world? How can he risk his fledgling career? He certainly can't resist the flamboyantly seductive young author. Prose (Mister Monkey, 2016) ingeniously takes on publishing, the fallout of WWII, and McCarthyism in a gloriously astute, skewering, and hilarious bildungsroman. One of this bravura performance's many piquant delights is Prose's clever use of Simon's fluency in ancient sagas as he struggles to comprehend just how malignant the scheme he's bogged down in truly is. Mordant, incisive, and tenderhearted, Prose presents an intricately realized tale of a treacherous, democracy-threatening time of lies, demagoguery, and prejudice that is as wildly exhilarating as the Cyclone, Simon's beloved Coney Island roller coaster. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In 1953, Simon Putnam is thrilled to land a job with a classy New York publishing company but not so thrilled with his first assignment. He's editing a bodice-ripper titled The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, which incongruously draws on the execution of the Rosenbergs, and he must keep secret his family's ties to Ethel Rosenberg. From National Book Award finalist Prose. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

It's the steamy summer of 1953, the year the Rosenbergs are executed for spying. Our hapless hero, Simon Putnam, a Jewish boy from Coney Island, has just graduated from Harvard with a degree in Icelandic folklore and, predictably, no job prospects. But his uncle, famous literary critic Madison Putnam, snags him a junior editor gig at a boutique publishing house run by Warren Landry, a WASP-y former OSS spy during World War II. He taps Simon to work with Anya, the beautiful—dare we say, vixenlike—author of a novel portraying Ethel Rosenberg as a sexy Mata Hari type. Simon, whose mother knew Mrs. Rosenberg, wants to rewrite the book with a more nuanced story line, but he's falling in love with Anya. Plus, Landry's publishing house is broke, and sales from this trashy spy novel could keep it afloat. VERDICT Prose's (Lovers at the Chameleon Club) exuberant, lighthearted novel immerses the reader in 1950s ambience, yet it's full of winks and nods to the current political climate. Simon, our overheated narrator, pulls us along as he stumbles into Cold War intrigue, and we're never sure which way the plot will turn until literally the last sentence. What a delightful read!—Reba Leiding, emerita, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Prose (Mister Monkey) holds up a mirror to a fractured culture in this dazzling take on America's tendency to persecute, then lionize, its most subversive figures. In 1953, recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam watches news of the Rosenberg execution on television with his parents in Brooklyn. Though Simon has profited from a Puritan-sounding name—and hopes to profit further—he's from a liberal Jewish family; his mother attended the same high school as Ethel Rosenberg (and even keeps a small shrine to her in their apartment). It's the height of the Red Scare, when "anyone could be accused" and "everyone was afraid." Flash forward a year, and Simon's literary critic uncle has landed him a job as junior editor at a prestigious but financially unstable publisher. When its founder, Warren Landry, gives Simon his first novel to edit, Simon is aghast to learn the project is a thinly veiled bodice ripper about the Rosenberg trial. It's an unusual book for the publisher, but Landry, a WWII veteran who once ran psyops for the OSS, lays out the stakes: the publisher needs a win, and a pulp yarn that further vilifies the Rosenbergs and Communism seems like just the thing. Why a junior editor would be given such an important task is a slow-burn mystery that propels readers through Prose's recreation of 1950s paranoia, complete with an appearance from Senator Joseph McCarthy's minion and future Trump mentor Roy Cohn. Sidelong commentary on Landry's sexual predation, shot through a lens informed by the #MeToo era, adds further resonance. This is Prose at the top of her game. (June) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In 1953 at a distinguished New York publishing firm, Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate, is tasked with editing a steamy bodice-ripper based on the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg--a project that makes him realize that the people around him are not what they seem.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In 1953, at a distinguished New York publishing firm, Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate is tasked with editing a steamy bodice-ripper based on the trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg — a project that makes him realize that everyone around him are not what they seem. 50,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Named one of the best books of 2021 by NPR, The Washington Post, and Financial Times“No one states problems more correctly, more astutely, more amusingly and more uncomfortably than Francine Prose . . . The gift of her work to a reader is to create for us what she creates for her protagonist: the subtle unfolding, the moment-by-moment process of discovery as we read and change, from not knowing and even not wanting to know or care, to seeing what we had not seen and finding our way to the light of the ending.”—Amy Bloom, New York Times Book Review"Depending on the light, it’s either a very funny serious story or a very serious funny story. But no matter how you turn it, The Vixen offers an illuminating reflection on the slippery nature of truth in America, then and now."—Washington PostCritically acclaimed, bestselling author Francine Prose returns with a dazzling new novel set in the glamorous world of 1950s New York publishing, the story of a young man tasked with editing a steamy bodice-ripper based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—an assignment that will reveal the true cost of entering that seductive, dangerous new world. It’s 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, has entered a glittering world of three-martini lunches, exclusive literary parties, and old-money aristocrats in exquisitely tailored suits, a far cry from his loving, middle-class Jewish family in Coney Island.But Simon’s first assignment—editing The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, a lurid bodice-ripper improbably based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a potboiler intended to shore up the firm’s failing finances—makes him question the cost of admission. Because Simon has a secret that, at the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings, he cannot reveal: his beloved mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg’s. His parents mourn Ethel’s death.Simon’s dilemma grows thornier when he meets The Vixen’s author, the startlingly beautiful, reckless, seductive Anya Partridge, ensconced in her opium-scented boudoir in a luxury Hudson River mental asylum. As mysteries deepen, as the confluence of sex, money, politics and power spirals out of Simon’s control, he must face what he’s lost by exchanging the loving safety of his middle-class Jewish parents’ Coney Island apartment for the witty, whiskey-soaked orbit of his charismatic boss, the legendary Warren Landry. Gradually Simon realizes that the people around him are not what they seem, that everyone is keeping secrets, that ordinary events may conceal a diabolical plot—and that these crises may steer him toward a brighter future. At once domestic and political, contemporary and historic, funny and heartbreaking, enlivened by surprising plot turns and passages from Anya’s hilariously bad novel, The Vixen illuminates a period of history with eerily striking similarities to the current moment. Meanwhile it asks timeless questions: How do we balance ambition and conscience? What do social mobility and cultural assimilation require us to sacrifice? How do we develop an authentic self, discover a vocation, and learn to live with the mysteries of love, family, art, life and loss?

Review by Publisher Summary 4

'Francine Prose is a powerhouse. The Vixen will fascinate and complicate the histories that haunt our present moments. Like Coney Island's Cyclone, this story tumbles and tangles a reader's grip of reality. It's told with the heart, humor and daring of a true artist. Prose's Vixen is a triumph and a trip though the solid magic that books make real.''samantha Hunt'A rollicking trickster of a novel, wondrously funny and wickedly addictive.''maria Semple Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Francine Prose returns with a dazzling new novel set in the glamorous world of 1950s New York publishing, the story of a young man tasked with editing a steamy bodice-ripper based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg'an assignment that will reveal the true cost of entering that seductive, dangerous new world. It's 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate newly hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm, has entered a glittering world of three-martini lunches, exclusive literary parties, and old-money aristocrats in exquisitely tailored suits, a far cry from his loving, middle-class Jewish family in Coney Island.But Simon's first assignment'editing The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, a lurid bodice-ripper improbably based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, a potboiler intended to shore up the firm's failing finances'makes him question the cost of admission. Because Simon has a secret that, at the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings, he cannot reveal: his beloved mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg's. His parents mourn Ethel's death.Simon's dilemma grows thornier when he meets The Vixen's author, the startlingly beautiful, reckless, seductive Anya Partridge, ensconced in her opium-scented boudoir in a luxury Hudson River mental asylum. As mysteries deepen, as the confluence of sex, money, politics and power spirals out of Simon's control, he must face what he's lost by exchanging the loving safety of his middle-class Jewish parents' Coney Island apartment for the witty, whiskey-soaked orbit of his charismatic boss, the legendary Warren Landry. Gradually Simon realizes that the people around him are not what they seem, that everyone is keeping secrets, that ordinary events may conceal a diabolical plot'and that these crises may steer him toward a brighter future. At once domestic and political, contemporary and historic, funny and heartbreaking, enlivened by surprising plot turns and passages from Anya's hilariously bad novel, The Vixen illuminates a period of history with eerily striking similarities to the current moment. Meanwhile it asks timeless questions: How do we balance ambition and conscience? What do social mobility and cultural assimilation require us to sacrifice? How do we develop an authentic self, discover a vocation, and learn to live with the mysteries of love, family, art, life and loss?