Excerpt from The Vixen by Francine Prose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Vixen

by Francine Prose

The Vixen by Francine Prose X
The Vixen by Francine Prose
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 336 pages

    Jun 2022, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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Print Excerpt

I assumed that Julia's secret had to do with the rounded belly clearly visible under her tight black dress, a daring choice at a time when pregnant women were expected to wear flowered smocks suitable for the babies they were about to have. Her outfit was even more defiant because, as I soon learned, Julia wasn't married.

Julia shrugged, miming boredom as she glanced at the toppling stacks of folders and envelopes, the mountains of unsolicited manuscripts. I felt like a combination of a clerk in Dickens, the girl in "Rumpelstiltskin" forced to spin straw into gold, and Hercules facing his thirteenth labor: Kill the lion and the Hydra. Capture the dog that guards the underworld. Muck out the Augean stables—and oh, when you're done, read the slush pile at Landry, Landry and Bartlett.

Julia said, "Do you know what those are?"


Julia shook her head.

"Wrong. That pile of shit is the hourglass your life is about to trickle out of."

Did Julia always talk like that? I wished she was staying on. We could work side by side. We could get to know each other, and she wouldn't hate me. I wanted to see her again. There was no point asking if I could get in touch with her in case I had questions.

"Have fun, Mr. Ivy League Hot Shit," she said.

"Please call me Simon," I said.

"Please don't tell me what to do," she said and burst into tears. Her tears blotched the form rejection letter, which seemed only right, preparation for the writer's tears that would fall on it later.

Julia wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Just read the first twenty pages. That's enough to tell if it's any good. Otherwise you'll go insane. But you should probably skim till the end. Some writers purposely leave out pages. Sometimes they glue pages together. That's so they can claim that their books weren't read. A few writers have tried to get our readers fired, which will never happen. Warren's got our backs. But don't let Warren fool you. You think he cares about you, he sees you, he understands who you are, and then you look, and your wallet is gone."

"My wallet?"

Julia rolled her lovely eyes. "Obviously not your wallet. Something you care about more. Plus he's got a lot of crazy ideas about politics he knows enough not to mention."

"What crazy ideas?"

Julia said, "Why would I tell you?"

I understood why she was angry. She'd been fired. She was pregnant. But nothing she said about my new boss, Warren Landry, could have diminished the excitement I felt after our first brief meeting, when he'd welcomed me to the firm. I was in awe of Warren, the way only the young can be in awe of a powerful and charismatic older person.

On the long circuitous walk from one end of the office to the other, from Warren's regal suite to Julia's cell—now mine—I fantasized exchanges in which I impressed him with my brilliance. But in his actual presence I'd sounded like a jerk.

"Are you okay?" asked Julia.

"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"

"You turned red and sort of ... grunted."

I knew why I'd blushed and made that sound. I was reliving an excruciating moment from my talk with Warren. He'd asked why I wanted to go into publishing. I should have expected the question, but all I could say was, "I've always liked books!" He'd smiled slightly (or was it a smirk?) and raised one perfectly arched silver eyebrow.

Julia detached a key from a ring and handed it to me, holding it between her fingertips, as if it were covered with germs.

"The bottom desk drawer locks."

"Why would I need to lock it?"

"You can leave your purse when you go to lunch."

"I don't have a purse," I said.

"Too bad for you," Julia said. "By the way, I'm taking the typewriter. I'll need to make a living somehow."

"Sure," I said. "Go ahead. Take it. I'll report it missing." I had no idea how I would do that, or what excuse I would make to get a new typewriter from the firm. Would I get in trouble? I'd figure it out. It seemed like the right thing to do.

* * *

Despite Julia's advice, I felt I owed it to the writers to read their work to the end, and to express my sincere hope that their book would find a better fit, a more suitable home, than Landry, Landry and Bartlett. I tried not to think about the recipients of these letters. I couldn't have gone to work if I did.

Excerpted from The Vixen by Francine Prose. Copyright © 2021 by Francine Prose. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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