BookBrowse Reviews The Vixen by Francine Prose

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Vixen

by Francine Prose

The Vixen by Francine Prose X
The Vixen by Francine Prose
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


An editorial assistant at a well-respected publishing house in 1950s Manhattan is tasked with editing a bodice-ripper novel based on the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam has been rejected from grad school and has thus returned to his parents' place in Coney Island for the foreseeable future. It's the summer of 1953, and Simon and his parents spend their evenings devotedly watching the news coverage of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's trial — an event that is especially emotionally charged for the Putnam family. Like the Rosenbergs, the Putnams are Jewish, and Ethel Rosenberg is a former classmate of Simon's mother. Contrary to the predominant social attitude about the Rosenbergs, Simon and his parents watch with horror and disbelief as the execution takes place.

A year later, Simon is working as an editorial assistant at a top publishing house in Manhattan (a job he secured through a family connection), when a rather odd manuscript lands on his desk. Fully titled The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic and written by beautiful-yet-reclusive author Anya Partridge, The Vixen is essentially a bodice-ripper novelization of the Rosenberg case (featuring protagonists Junius and Esther Rosenstein). Respectful of his mother's connection to Ethel, Simon begins his assignment with trepidation, and the more he reads, the more his fears are confirmed: The Vixen is not only poorly written, but also insensitive and dehumanizing to a woman whose last words to her lawyer play frequently through his head: "You shall see to it that our names are kept bright and unsullied by lies."

Refusing to edit the manuscript isn't really an option for Simon. He's desperate to prove his worth to his boss, who confides he suspects The Vixen will be the sort of commercial success that will bring in some much-needed cash flow to the company. Instead, Simon seeks out the elusive Anya to persuade her to reconsider her portrayal of Ethel as a heartless femme-fatale figure.

Francine Prose's The Vixen, unlike its fictional counterpart, is a thoughtful, incisive commentary on the relationship between stories and reality, and the moral obligations of the individual when it comes to retelling history. Set during the height of McCarthyism, Prose captures the fraught atmosphere of distrust that pervaded the U.S. — Simon's inability to confide his true thoughts about the Rosenbergs to anyone makes his dilemma even heavier. Far from an altruistic protagonist, Simon is driven by a deep-seated shame for his Coney Island upbringing and a desire to prove himself competent, easily forgoing the moral high ground of refusing to work on the book. He admits, "I wanted an interesting life more than I wanted to do what was right." The novel is punctuated by guilt and meditations on culpability, but its central ethical quandary unfolds in a gritty and unexpected fashion.

The Vixen is a tense, turbulent book — from its depictions of insidious Cold War paranoia to its vivid descriptions of New York publishing, it's an engrossing, immersive read. When Simon starts to uncover the reasons why he, specifically, was selected to edit this manuscript, the novel takes a bit of a turn for the outlandish, so keep in mind going in that there's a quasi-spy-thriller element that will begin to reveal itself midway through. But it's an undoubtedly fun, well-paced book — both absorbing and subtly affecting.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2021, and has been updated for the July 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...
  • Book Jacket: The Story of Russia
    The Story of Russia
    by Orlando Figes
    In The Story of Russia, British historian and writer Orlando Figes shares panoramic and ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.