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
  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 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 first ran in the July 14, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Crossroads
    Crossroads
    by Jonathan Franzen
    Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads transports readers to the early 1970s, introducing us to a family on ...
  • Book Jacket: Chasing Me to My Grave
    Chasing Me to My Grave
    by Winfred Rembert
    Chasing Me to My Grave might be the most authentic, vulnerable autobiography you'll ever read. ...
  • Book Jacket: My Monticello
    My Monticello
    by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
    In the incendiary opening story of My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's debut collection, a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Wrong End of the Telescope
    The Wrong End of the Telescope
    by Rabih Alameddine
    Rabih Alameddine's The Wrong End of the Telescope follows Mina, a Lebanese American doctor who ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky
by Margaret Verble
A deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Who Said...

At times, our own light goes out, and is rekindled by a spark from another person.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

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.