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The Vixen

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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 wor 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?


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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 wor 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?

30 review for The Vixen

  1. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Hot diggity! This Francine Prose is one of the pros, I’m telling you. With sophisticated, lively language, she took me into the New York City publishing world in the 1950s, and I was totally absorbed from page 1. Oh, and she also took me to Coney Island, and I could feel the boardwalk under my feet, feel the thrill of the rides. I’ve got a weird thing going about New York. I never lived there but I’m nostalgic. But tell me, how can I be nostalgic for a city that I only visited a dozen times or so? Hot diggity! This Francine Prose is one of the pros, I’m telling you. With sophisticated, lively language, she took me into the New York City publishing world in the 1950s, and I was totally absorbed from page 1. Oh, and she also took me to Coney Island, and I could feel the boardwalk under my feet, feel the thrill of the rides. I’ve got a weird thing going about New York. I never lived there but I’m nostalgic. But tell me, how can I be nostalgic for a city that I only visited a dozen times or so? I don’t believe in past lives, but if I did, I’m pretty sure I was once a proud New Yorker. One who loved the fast pace, the cynicism, the subway, the book world. Every time I read a good book about NYC, I sort of get this swagger and I think I’m a hot shot. I have to tell myself to calm down and stop being so obnoxious in my head, but the other voice tells me, “Whatever floats your boat.” Well, this book definitely floated my boat. Not only did I feel the pulse of the city and the publishing world, I learned a little history. I had been too young at the time to hear about the Rosenbergs, a couple who were accused of being Communist spies and were executed in the 1950s. Don’t ask me why I didn’t learn about it in school. The book opens with a scene of a family watching the countdown to execution. The characters are vivid and complex; especially Simon, who is telling the story. Another huge plus for me: lots of introspection. Simon is always analyzing what he’s doing, what he’s thinking. He’s sort of floundering and is very hard on himself. He gets in trouble because he wants everyone to like him. Meanwhile, I liked him! What I also loved was that Simon was in a moral quandary for most of the book. What was the right thing to do? And would he do it? Could he live with himself if he did the wrong thing? And was there actually a “wrong” thing to do? I can’t remember when I last read a book that had morality as its main theme. Good stuff! I liked it that there wasn’t an ounce of sentimentality. At the risk of sounding like a cold fish, I’m glad to read a book where heartwarming isn’t the main adjective used to describe it. A few quotes to whet your appetite: “My uncle turned a pinkish purple of a violent intensity that I wouldn’t see again in nature until my first desert sunset.” “The snails were an ingenious delivery system for garlic, butter, and parsley.” “His posture was aggressive and defensive at once, as if, like a toddler with sharp scissors, he feared that someone would take away his cane.” “Just getting through the day felt like memorizing poetry in a foreign language, outside, in a hailstorm.” Now, of course, I want to read more of Prose’s books. This was such a satisfying read. Check it out! Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    What a pleasure this novel is—I couldn’t put it down—and how tricky it is to say why or anything about it, because to do so would rob other readers of the pleasure of discovery. Since it happens immediately, it is safe to tell you that it begins with the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, but where it goes from there is so unpredictable that it’s best to say nothing. As a writer, I enjoyed the “inside” look at book publishing and book politics, but nonwriters will also relate: if you’ve ever What a pleasure this novel is—I couldn’t put it down—and how tricky it is to say why or anything about it, because to do so would rob other readers of the pleasure of discovery. Since it happens immediately, it is safe to tell you that it begins with the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, but where it goes from there is so unpredictable that it’s best to say nothing. As a writer, I enjoyed the “inside” look at book publishing and book politics, but nonwriters will also relate: if you’ve ever suffered betrayal from someone you like/love/trust or if you were ever screwed at a job, you’ll have some kind of personal identification. The plot leaps in this story may seem extreme . . . unless you know some real history of extreme political actions. (Hint: Ian McEwan covered some of the same territory in Sweet Tooth, a book that has almost nothing else in common with this one, but having read it, I’m sure what seems far-fetched is not.* Add to that our current cultural divides in the U.S. over truth and fiction . . . Suffice it to say, facts and "alternative facts" have proven to be a matter of belief and are easily manipulated.) I’m being a tease and can’t help it. I should just shut up and say, boy, was this book fun to read. Thanks to HarperCollins Netgalley for the ARC. I can’t wait until there are tons of reviews. I’m so curious how others will react. This is my fourth Francine Prose novel and my favorite. ______________ *7/11/21 Update I found myself contemplating this book as well as McEwan's Sweet Tooth this morning, wondering if there was a true historical article to be mined from their similar plot choices, and I did some research. Which leads me to this correction: the plot leap, which I cannot divulge without spoiing it, is not based on historical truth, as far as I can tell. That said, for the past 25 or so years, I've been learning the history I was never taught in my white suburban New York schools. This effort began when I landed in a job which threw me into indigenous rights communities about which I knew nothing. Feeling like an idiot, I began educating myself. This self-education has escalated since the Big Liar took office and falsehoods about everything from the seriousness of COVID to election results exploded the already roiling culture war. I've written many reviews of the books that have helped me in my efforts (too many to list here), so suffice it to say that although the plot twist in this and McEwan's novel are fiction, there is plenty of basis for Francine Prose's imagination.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Had Francine Prose followed what I believe was her initial instinct—to write a story about an innocent junior editor who has torn between his conscience and his desire to garner the rewards of living a relevant and interesting life—this would have been an extraordinary novel. The premise is indeed, fascinating: a bumbling young Harvard graduate named Simon Putnam is placed in charge of shepherding a bodice-ripper of a book based on Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The novel is designed to help a strug Had Francine Prose followed what I believe was her initial instinct—to write a story about an innocent junior editor who has torn between his conscience and his desire to garner the rewards of living a relevant and interesting life—this would have been an extraordinary novel. The premise is indeed, fascinating: a bumbling young Harvard graduate named Simon Putnam is placed in charge of shepherding a bodice-ripper of a book based on Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The novel is designed to help a struggling literary publisher get back on its feet financially, and it is written by a very beautiful, enticing, and unstable debut author named Anya. Naturally, Simon falls head over heels for her. The fictional book, entitled The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic, with its lewd plotline, is in direct contrast to Simon’s sense of value and dignity. His mother, after all, was neighbors with Ethel and has often quoted one of her final statements to her lawyer: “You will see to it that our names are kept bright and unsullied by lies.” That line is repeated in this book. A lot. So are Simon’s fears and guilt about causing his mother grief. We hear about that a lot, too. This good-looking Harvard graduate is so awkward and bumbling that his social interactions border on cringeworthy. Later in the book, he is described by a key character as malleable. It is hard to believe that anyone could get through college years – even in the 1950s – and be so rudderless and self-lacerating. Simon also has a habit, it seems, of falling in love with just about any female who is placed in his path. It is easy to see why he would be lustful towards Anya. But to fall so deeply for a woman who appears to have his polar opposite values, little moral compass, and who is quite likely mentally disturbed is a hard pill to swallow. I won’t give away the plot points. It wouldn’t be fair. But I will say that I had the uncomfortable feeling that art was imitating life. The state-mandated murder of the Rosenbergs for a level of crimes they did not do (Ethel, for example, was only the typist of materials and paid for that with her life), has long held a sort of prurient interest. The fictional Vixen capitalizes on that interest and in ways, so does its namesake. The urge to publish a best seller that will appeal to a broad audience (we later discover who that audience is intended to be) also has some tendrils in the Prose book. All the kinds of characters that appeal to readers are here – the naïve acolyte, the scheming and lascivious publisher, the beautiful and damaged damsel, the secondary characters who are not what they appear to be. But in writing this soon-to-be best-seller (and I suspect it will be, because the storyline moves fast and I never did want to abandon it), the theme becomes heavy-handed and the characters in places become caricatures. When Simon moans that all the people around him have lied to him and betrayed him, it’s almost a laughable moment because he has lied by omission to many of them—and most of all, to himself. Now, I love Francine Prose. I have read many of her past books and have totally enjoyed several of them. So it gives me no great joy to depart from several literary reviews who are calling the book “dazzling”. I want to thank HarperCollins—which is a FAR better publishing house than the one portrayed in these pages!—and NetGalley for enabling me to be an early reader in exchange for an honest review. I am truly sorry that that this review is taking me in an unanticipated direction and look forward to the many other superb titles they publish.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    History and humor ….. blend together like sugar and spice. The prose is filled with marvelous texture and intricate narrative sensations. I really enjoyed this historical contemporary stylized novel. It had an old fashion feeling of power and greed in parts - there are political and social issues - with all the pleasures of personal intimacies…..( love, loss, misery, secrets, conflicts, choices, guilt, dependency, individuality, with perils of self-reinvention). The dominant question explored is History and humor ….. blend together like sugar and spice. The prose is filled with marvelous texture and intricate narrative sensations. I really enjoyed this historical contemporary stylized novel. It had an old fashion feeling of power and greed in parts - there are political and social issues - with all the pleasures of personal intimacies…..( love, loss, misery, secrets, conflicts, choices, guilt, dependency, individuality, with perils of self-reinvention). The dominant question explored is, “how does one balance ambition and conscience?” ‘The Vixen’ takes place in the 1950’s. I went in blind. It was great advice (thank you Betsy)…..so I’m going to pass on the same tip. The professional blurb says plenty. But….I’ll leave a couple of excerpts [no spoilers] to pass on varied tidbit flavors: “I imagined that my colleagues were hiding something from me, and later, when my work required hiding something from them, I was grateful for my cloak of invisibility”. “I felt lucky to have a job, though it wasn’t what I planned. I still longed for the library carrel smelling of dust and mold, for the warm dark cave where I could spend my life reading sagas about honor killings, about women with thieves’ eyes bringing disaster down on the men who ignored the warnings. Somewhere my authentic self was being acclaimed for his original research, even as my counterfeit self was suffering envelopes with rejected novels about Elizabethan wenches, aristocratic Southern families with incestuous pasts, the plucky founders of small-town newspapers, and inferior imitations of ‘The Wall’ John Hersey’s bestselling novel about the Warsaw Ghetto”. “My private war had broken out between my conscience and my ambition, my passivity and my wanting to do the right thing. I was being asked to edit a book of lies about a woman who could no longer defend her self, if she ever could. My family would’ve been horrified”. “Julia said, Do you know what those are?” “Manuscripts?” “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 wish 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”. Parts of this novel were predictable—but not only didn’t I mind…it gave me comfort. I enjoyed living inside this created world with these characters. There are heartbreaking and heartwarming moments….with an easy natural ‘writing/reading’ flow making it very enjoyable to dissolve ourselves completely in. I especially loved the ending pages.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    A world paralyzed by nuclear terror. A nation riven by internal suspicion. A mother killed by electrocution. Such are the grim elements of Francine Prose’s new comic novel, “The Vixen.” 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. Comedy and tragedy are two sides of a spinning coin in Prose’s latest historical reimagini A world paralyzed by nuclear terror. A nation riven by internal suspicion. A mother killed by electrocution. Such are the grim elements of Francine Prose’s new comic novel, “The Vixen.” 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. Comedy and tragedy are two sides of a spinning coin in Prose’s latest historical reimagining. The story begins with dread on Coney Island. It’s June 19, 1953, and the TV is playing “I Love Lucy” interrupted with updates on the imminent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The narrator, Simon, is sitting with his parents in their dark apartment watching the flickering images on the black-and-white screen. Years ago, Simon’s mother grew up in the same tenement building as Ethel Rosenberg. “They hadn’t been close,” Simon says, “but history had turned Ethel, in my mother’s eyes, into a beloved friend.” The connection is deeper, though. For Simon’s family, the Rosenbergs’ conviction on espionage charges is another frightening example of American anti-Semitism. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Will

    A historical novel that deftly straddles the line between the serious and the comedic. There are some eye-rolling twists and turns that are great fun while Prose slyly casts a reflection on our current times.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I fear I cannot adequately explain why this novel hypnotized me. The narrator, Simon Putnam, tells a tale out of my own childhood about the death of the Rosenbergs and the events and conspiracies swirling around them. I have probably read everything about the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, so this novel fascinated me. As always, Prose writes exquisitely, and brought me back to the 1950’s with frightening strength. I remember the night that television was interrupted to tell us that Jul I fear I cannot adequately explain why this novel hypnotized me. The narrator, Simon Putnam, tells a tale out of my own childhood about the death of the Rosenbergs and the events and conspiracies swirling around them. I have probably read everything about the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, so this novel fascinated me. As always, Prose writes exquisitely, and brought me back to the 1950’s with frightening strength. I remember the night that television was interrupted to tell us that Julius and Ethel had been executed. I know my family was as furious as Simon’s. From that day till today, my fascination with their lives and death has pulled me toward everything ever written about them. I was one of the few theater goers to see ETHEL SINGS: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg, when it briefly played off Broadway. So, I had to love this book and Simon’s efforts to ensure that Ethel not be defamed. Bravo Simon, and bravo Francine Prose for bringing this era to life. A special thank you to Netgalley for allowing me to read and review this novel. WOW!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bethspin

    I don't normally give such low ratings, but, wow, what a stupid book. I can't count how many times I rolled my eyes. This book is possibly worse than the Vixen book in the story that they make fun of. I don't normally give such low ratings, but, wow, what a stupid book. I can't count how many times I rolled my eyes. This book is possibly worse than the Vixen book in the story that they make fun of.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The premise of this meta fiction novel with impressively complex plot is brilliant and the writing is crisp. It is both funny and frightening. The setting in mid-century NYC is clear. It speaks to the fluidity of truth both during the McCarthy-era nightmare of American history and the present. The author was able to get the reader to peel back layers of truth as the naive narrator slowly understood the situation. This is a story of betrayal and revenge within the context of how history is told. The premise of this meta fiction novel with impressively complex plot is brilliant and the writing is crisp. It is both funny and frightening. The setting in mid-century NYC is clear. It speaks to the fluidity of truth both during the McCarthy-era nightmare of American history and the present. The author was able to get the reader to peel back layers of truth as the naive narrator slowly understood the situation. This is a story of betrayal and revenge within the context of how history is told. This book is perfect.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

    I wanted to love this book, but unfortunately for me it was too many stories wrapped into one. Romance. Historical fiction. Mystery. It was too muddled.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    I was provided an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway and received no compensation for my comments. For the second time this week, curse my inability to give this book 3.5 stars. I have lots of feelings about the book; some parts were amazing, some parts made me hope that a few more edits would be made, sometimes I thought I was reading too much into it, sometimes the writing was good enough to be certain that I was getting exactly what the author wanted me to get out of it. The first I was provided an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway and received no compensation for my comments. For the second time this week, curse my inability to give this book 3.5 stars. I have lots of feelings about the book; some parts were amazing, some parts made me hope that a few more edits would be made, sometimes I thought I was reading too much into it, sometimes the writing was good enough to be certain that I was getting exactly what the author wanted me to get out of it. The first thing people need to know about this book? Read it all. I mean it. Normally I'm all for quitting books you don't enjoy. Life is short and all that. But this book switches genre, tropes, etc at different parts of the book, at the same time the narrator realizes exactly what kind of situation he is in the middle of. The prologue is...rocky. At best. The writing style feels like it's from a different book, which, given the ending, might be on purpose. It then transitions into The-Secret-History-lite, then to the Tortured Academic Novel, then into Tom Clancy. And it only works if you read the whole thing. Do I think the transitions between genres could be done smoother? Of course. Some of the key themes of third act needed to make an appearance earlier. The political commentary could have been a bit more nuanced. Theres a bunch of technical tweaks I would make, but the tiny moments in the book make the book worth it. The diner's mac-n-cheese, The Burning, the subtle hints about Anya w/ the rice pudding...those tiny hints keep the wheels of the book turning.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    A most enthralling story. Francine Prose is a phenomenal writer and spinner of stories. This one defies classification! It begins on the eve of the execution of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg and while it delves into the political it is so many other things.... a coming of age story, a thriller, a spy novel, the making of a writer, and even a love story. The protagonist, Simon Putnam, has just gotten his first job after college graduation (from Harvard) at a tony publishing house that, it turns out, i A most enthralling story. Francine Prose is a phenomenal writer and spinner of stories. This one defies classification! It begins on the eve of the execution of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg and while it delves into the political it is so many other things.... a coming of age story, a thriller, a spy novel, the making of a writer, and even a love story. The protagonist, Simon Putnam, has just gotten his first job after college graduation (from Harvard) at a tony publishing house that, it turns out, is in financial trouble. He is losing his mind going through 'slush piles' of submitted manuscripts day after day, when the genteel, well heeled head of the company requests that he edit a "top secret" novel, thinly disguised as the story of the Rosenbergs and the publication of this novel will put the publishing house back in the black. This is his big break, thinks Simon, but, from there things spin out of control in ways both frightening and humorous. Prose's writing perfectly captures the claustrophobic and paranoid environment of the McCarthy hearings and the ramping up of the Cold War. She seamlessly stitches the narrative together in ways that twist and turn and kept me up reading late into the night. If this doesn't turn out to be a bestseller, I will be very surprised. Highly recommended. Thank you to Byrd's Books for the ARC. Pub date 6/21/21

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I am a sucker for books about writers. And books about books. So, I was immediately drawn to THE VIXEN. But, this is really a book about deceit. Or, perhaps, more accurately, a coming of age story. I desperately wanted the young protagonist to earn his parents pride. Their unconditional love for him made them proud before he earned it, and I wanted him to work for that gift. So, as a reader, I struggled along with him as he bumbled through his entry level job assignments. My yearning for his succe I am a sucker for books about writers. And books about books. So, I was immediately drawn to THE VIXEN. But, this is really a book about deceit. Or, perhaps, more accurately, a coming of age story. I desperately wanted the young protagonist to earn his parents pride. Their unconditional love for him made them proud before he earned it, and I wanted him to work for that gift. So, as a reader, I struggled along with him as he bumbled through his entry level job assignments. My yearning for his success left me filled with tension as I worked my way through the novel. And, it was harder work than I anticipated because he was so naive, and so idealistic, and so unaware. . . Perhaps that is what left me a bit dissatisfied with this book. I loved the plot twists. I enjoyed the author skewering the hyper-sophisticated literary press. But, I wanted more from our Harvard-educated anti- hero. His relationship with his family was charming, and felt “ real,” but his relationships with women went so far afield that my “ suspension of disbelief” couldn’t reach that far. This was an interesting book in many ways, but I wanted it to be so much more than it was. NetGalley provided me with a complimentary copy in exchange for a candid review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    McCarthyism/Red Scare themes in Historical Fiction have been very popular over the last few years, but Francine Prose has found a unique and interesting take on the subject. I’ve been a fan of Prose since I read Lovers at the Chameleon Club, and while this book can’t quite match that for flawless work, it’s a good story in its own right. After the outstanding prologue that sets the scene for the entire novel, I struggled a bit with where the story was going. Simon, our sweet and bumbling naïf of McCarthyism/Red Scare themes in Historical Fiction have been very popular over the last few years, but Francine Prose has found a unique and interesting take on the subject. I’ve been a fan of Prose since I read Lovers at the Chameleon Club, and while this book can’t quite match that for flawless work, it’s a good story in its own right. After the outstanding prologue that sets the scene for the entire novel, I struggled a bit with where the story was going. Simon, our sweet and bumbling naïf of a narrator spends a lot of time reckoning with his conscience and then promptly ignoring it, and then engages in a tiresome affair with the author whose work he has been assigned to edit. Though this part of the story felt droning and overlong, it does set up what follows, which is a far more engaging series of events than Simon’s typical twenty something navel gazing and a bunch of cringey semi-public trysts. For a book driven mostly by plot, The Vixen had atmosphere in spades, which is perhaps what I look for most in a novel. Chameleon Club was the same, and it’s one of the best features of Prose’s fine writing. I loved the way she used Coney Island in the story. Though it has plenty of moments of heartbreak and cruelty, The Vixen is at its heart a sweet story about being brave enough to do what’s right and making ones parents proud. Fool though he was at times, I really liked Simon and especially adored his sweet appreciation of his lovely parents. The Rosenberg situation was not quite as morally simple as it is laid out in the book, but the way Prose works it into her story is masterful and entertaining. *I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Proser

    Weirdly paced. Weirdly plotted. Weirdly twisted. Francine Prose is just so original and.. weird! An engaging read for reasons I can’t fathom. I mean…even the pitch for this book not ending up in the sludge pile is impressive. Oh and the publishing business as conspiratorial, propaganda machine? Well, of course.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I dont think I was the audience for this book. Maria Semple called it "trickster of a novel, wonderousky funny and wickedly addictive". Definitely didnt get the funny and it was too easy to put down. I dont think I was the audience for this book. Maria Semple called it "trickster of a novel, wonderousky funny and wickedly addictive". Definitely didnt get the funny and it was too easy to put down.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Johnson

    *review in progress*

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emily Matthys

    The Vixen is such a fun, mysterious little story! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started, but I was easily sucked in and could not put it down. I was instantly invested! This book is set in America in the 1950’s, at a time when Americans were just on the heels of WWII and already embroiled in the Cold War. People toss around the word communism like candy these days, but in this era of history it was a truly terrifying thought…and a word that could even land you on trial! I love that this bo The Vixen is such a fun, mysterious little story! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started, but I was easily sucked in and could not put it down. I was instantly invested! This book is set in America in the 1950’s, at a time when Americans were just on the heels of WWII and already embroiled in the Cold War. People toss around the word communism like candy these days, but in this era of history it was a truly terrifying thought…and a word that could even land you on trial! I love that this book makes the reader long for more information, more history, more knowledge. I vaguely remember hearing about the Rosenbergs in my youth, but this book definitely led me down a rabbit hole (my favorite!) and I’ve since spent hours researching and reading about this fascinating and devastating case. Joseph McCarthy, as we all now know, was a real piece of shit and I love that this novel doesn’t shy away from showing that. In the end, this was a fun and exciting read with some real and serious issues included. I really enjoyed the characters and their development and the ending was just perfection. 4/5 ✨

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    A most exciting and interesting story. I never read anything about the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The characters became more interesting as I read this great story. I felt like I knew each and everyone of them. This story keeps you reading and enjoying each and every page. It is a spy story, love story and a thriller all bundle together. I am now so interested in reading more books about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. What a great author. Highly recommend this book to family , friends A most exciting and interesting story. I never read anything about the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The characters became more interesting as I read this great story. I felt like I knew each and everyone of them. This story keeps you reading and enjoying each and every page. It is a spy story, love story and a thriller all bundle together. I am now so interested in reading more books about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. What a great author. Highly recommend this book to family , friends and book clubs.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    Read in prepub, due out June 2, 2021. A story of publishing intrigue steeped in the red scare paranoia of the mid 1950's. The mystery at the center of the narrative is relatively low stakes, but the characters that Prose introduces are so interesting that you can't stop reading until you find out what happens to them. Recommended for fans of Emma Donoghue. Prose handles historical themes with the same type of literary deftness. Read in prepub, due out June 2, 2021. A story of publishing intrigue steeped in the red scare paranoia of the mid 1950's. The mystery at the center of the narrative is relatively low stakes, but the characters that Prose introduces are so interesting that you can't stop reading until you find out what happens to them. Recommended for fans of Emma Donoghue. Prose handles historical themes with the same type of literary deftness.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rita Brutsch

    I forgot how much I like Francine Prose! So witty and well written - I had to smile all the way through. A young man at the start of his career is being handed an awful manuscript to edit. But wait - there is more ..

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Historical Fiction

    There's something about the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953 after a controversial trial on charges of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, that seems to fascinate great writers. In 1971, in E. L. Doctorow’s novel THE BOOK OF DANIEL, the fictional Isaacson family served as stand-ins for their real-life counterparts to explore the impact of the case on the surviving children. Robert Coover turned the Rosenbergs into actual characters in his 1977 novel, THE PUBLIC BURNI There's something about the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953 after a controversial trial on charges of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, that seems to fascinate great writers. In 1971, in E. L. Doctorow’s novel THE BOOK OF DANIEL, the fictional Isaacson family served as stand-ins for their real-life counterparts to explore the impact of the case on the surviving children. Robert Coover turned the Rosenbergs into actual characters in his 1977 novel, THE PUBLIC BURNING, a satire of Cold War America and the career of Richard Nixon. Now, in THE VIXEN, her 22nd novel, Francine Prose has brilliantly used the Rosenbergs’ story as the foundation for a captivating coming-of-age tale about ambition, love, family loyalty, truth and lies, and the publishing business. It’s funny, warm and thoughtful, and even features a convoluted mystery plot that’s resolved with entertaining panache. The protagonist is Simon Putnam, an intelligent, if callow, member of Harvard’s Class of 1953, who grew up on Coney Island and whose Jewish ancestry is concealed by the whimsical action of the Ellis Island immigration official who greeted his grandfather on arrival in the United States. When Simon’s dream of graduate school and an academic career focused on the study of Viking sagas is waylaid, his uncle, a well-known critic and public intellectual, helps him secure a job at the prestigious publishing house of Landry, Landry and Bartlett. Sentenced to Dickensian servitude managing the slush pile, the collection of unsolicited submissions “that kept growing, no matter what I did,” Simon conscientiously wades through manuscripts like Tears in the Apple Pie, a memoir by a housewife whose husband ran off with his great-aunt, knowing there are no gold nuggets to be discovered amid the dross. But despite the tedium, he dreams of bigger things: “I wanted a successful --- an enviable --- career,” he confesses. “I wanted to find my place in the literary world. I wanted to be someone. Preferably someone like Warren.” “Warren,” in this case, is Warren Landry, the publishing house’s director (despite the name, he’s the firm’s sole Landry), who comes by his New England WASP credentials honestly and worked in psychological warfare for the CIA’s predecessor during World War II. For a moment, Simon believes that redemption may be at hand when Landry appears in his office with the manuscript of a novel entitled The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic for the lowly junior assistant editor to edit. His boss explains that the commercial success of the novel is essential to the survival of the publisher, one that’s highly regarded for its fine literary taste. It’s bad enough that The Vixen is an unreadable potboiler about the Rosenberg case that portrays “Esther Rosenstein” as a nymphomaniac Russian spy along with her cuckolded husband “Junius” and is untethered even accidentally to any facts of the case. Simon is also haunted by the knowledge that his mother grew up with Ethel Rosenberg in the same Lower East Side tenement building and by Ethel’s plea in a final letter to her lawyer: “You will see to it that our names are kept bright and unsullied by lies” as he reflects on her portrayal. He’s determined to transform the “grotesque insult to the Rosenbergs’ memory” into something respectable, even as he recognizes that effort will doom its sales prospects. For all his misgivings, Simon is smitten by the jacket photograph of the novel’s author, Anya Partridge, a frustrated actress who’s living in a “minimum security asylum” that Simon thinks of as a “country club with nurses.” Once the two meet, THE VIXEN ignites, especially as their relationship crosses the line from professional to personal, including one unforgettable scene in the Terror Tomb at Coney Island that launches an affair for which the term “acrobatic” might be the only apt one. In a recent New York Times interview, Prose observed, “I’m very conscious of keeping the reader’s interest. And I’m easily bored --- I’m easily bored by books, I hate to say. And so I want there to be some sort of suspense or some sort of payoff.” Prose lives by her own creed, because there are no boring moments in this energetic novel. Whether he’s wrestling with his conscience about his role in publishing the dreadful novel, thrashing about in a tangled romantic life that includes his infatuation with Anya and a crush on Landry, Landry, and Bartlett’s chief publicist Elaine Geller, or agonizing how his involvement with The Vixen, if discovered, could permanently damage his relationship with his loving parents, Simon is an appealing, believable narrator whose movement from naivete to maturity is profoundly entertaining. Prose plants a healthy collection of MacGuffins to keep the novel’s plot moving. And while Simon’s moral quandary is undeniably real, it’s leavened with sharp humor, as when he admits he “wanted to be one of those to whom success came easily,” or acknowledges that “[b]eneath my youthful diffidence and insecurity lurked the egomania of a Roman emperor.” There are many moments when one can imagine Philip Roth or Joseph Heller smiling at Prose’s ingenuity and verve. She long ago secured her literary reputation, and THE VIXEN will only serve to burnish it. Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Cosin

    I don't have much to say about The Vixen five or so days after finishing it. Which I guess says a lot. I enjoyed reading it. It is an intriguing story about someone writing a trashy novel about Ethel Rosenberg shortly after her execution. The man asked to edit it is the Jewish son of a family who knew the Rosenbergs; he has a moral dilemma about how the novel tarnishes her name and for what purpose? It was a bit over-the-top, not unlike the trashy novel, but of course it was meant to be. So, yes, I don't have much to say about The Vixen five or so days after finishing it. Which I guess says a lot. I enjoyed reading it. It is an intriguing story about someone writing a trashy novel about Ethel Rosenberg shortly after her execution. The man asked to edit it is the Jewish son of a family who knew the Rosenbergs; he has a moral dilemma about how the novel tarnishes her name and for what purpose? It was a bit over-the-top, not unlike the trashy novel, but of course it was meant to be. So, yes, it was amusing and enjoyable. So what's not to like? Here is a quote I liked about The Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island: "As the train chugged up the incline, I felt the husk of my life drop back to earth, like the stages of a rocket. After that first plunge, all that remained was the bright kernel of soul - authentic, pure, fully alive - exploding inside my head. I wanted to feel my hair blown back, my skin stretched over my bones. I wanted to think I might die, that death might solve my problems. I wanted to feel my brain pressed against my skull. Mostly I wanted to feel grateful and happy to be alive when the train leveled and slowed. The Cyclone was my prayer, my meditation." Also, I'm enjoying that the novel I am reading right after The Vixen is The Plot, also about a book within a book. And that I recently watched Stranger Than Fiction on Netflix. It's all connected.......

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    I am going to be 100% transparent here... I currently have four different Francine Prose books on my bookshelves. I have mostly only read the first three or four chapters of each. I just can't get much further than that ever. Not so much with The Vixen. When I was starting The Vixen, something clicked with me this time. Maybe I resonated with the character's returning home from Harvard after graduation (I didn't go to Harvard, but I did move back in with my parents after college) and how the new I am going to be 100% transparent here... I currently have four different Francine Prose books on my bookshelves. I have mostly only read the first three or four chapters of each. I just can't get much further than that ever. Not so much with The Vixen. When I was starting The Vixen, something clicked with me this time. Maybe I resonated with the character's returning home from Harvard after graduation (I didn't go to Harvard, but I did move back in with my parents after college) and how the news of the day (in this case it was the Rosenbergs incarceration and execution - particularly Ethel in this case) effects those around us so closely. In my day the big trial was OJ Simpson. Anyways.... the book caught me. As I was reading it, I wondered... is this a book about literary license, publishing, a mystery wrapped in a story about publishing, a mystery wrapped in a torrid but albiet short love affair that is one sided, what the heck is this book about? Do not get me wrong here... I really did enjoy the twisty nature of the way the story unfolds and not giving too much away, I was a little surprised by some of the fun and deluted backstory that happens as we merrily go along. It was a fun ride (like the Cyclone). The main character is a young editor who gets handed an assignment that absolutely hands him alot of complications and opportunities. What he learns along the way is super twisty and was really great. The author leaves a lot of breadcrumbs through out the story which was alot of fun to track and see how these things worked out. Chapter 1 of the Vixen is up on the NYT (and for the time being not behind a paywall). It's a great introduction into the story and how it unfolds before the reader. It was a fun read, worth sticking with (said by someone, again, who up until this book, has never finished a book by Francine Prose.... and now is going to go back and try and reread for the fourth time Mr. Monkey... maybe I get it now...) I never star any kind of book but because this is the first time I have finished one by this author... I am giving this the random full star point system. It was a complete ride and a super fun read. Here I am able to give a five star treatment. Maybe if I was to be cheeky a little peach emoji being it's all vixeny? But I know there are other people that rate with emojis... can't steal their thunder. Just use your imagination that I did use it. It was a quick and easy enough read and fun for a "summer beach book". Do we even do that anymore? Do we say that it is a beach book? I dunno. I read it on my back porch after work so it was my post work decompression book. Beach Read sounds better and less stressy. Call it what you will... this was a fun romp and read. Thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy... I promise I will get back to the other books by the author now! And tell everyone I know that this was a really twisty and fun adventure.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patty Shlonsky

    i would give this more than 5 starts if i could! “The Vixen” is a sort of coming of age story that takes place in the 1950s, during America’s struggle to assess its morality in the McCarthy era. The novel, in many but not all ways, revolves around the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1953. Simon Putnam narrates the story and has just graduated from Harvard with a degree in Folklore and Mythology. Despite a reference from his renowned professor Robertson Crowley, Simon is rejected from a i would give this more than 5 starts if i could! “The Vixen” is a sort of coming of age story that takes place in the 1950s, during America’s struggle to assess its morality in the McCarthy era. The novel, in many but not all ways, revolves around the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1953. Simon Putnam narrates the story and has just graduated from Harvard with a degree in Folklore and Mythology. Despite a reference from his renowned professor Robertson Crowley, Simon is rejected from a graduate program in Norse literature at the University of Chicago. Simon is in awe of professor Crowley, explaining that when he sat through his lectures “I felt that I was hearing the answer to a question that I hadn’t known enough to ask.” After his rejection from the University of Chicago, Simon has no choice but to return home to his parents in Coney Island. Two weeks after he returns from Harvard, Simon sits with his parents and watches the news surrounding the execution of the Rosenbergs. The Putnam family is sympathetic to the Rosenbergs and has a personal tie to Ethel. “My mother grew up on the Lower East Side, in the same tenement building as Ethel…They went to the same high school.” These were not things you told people during those times. Nor did you tell people that, despite your name, you are Jewish. Simon’s uncle, Madison Putnam, is a distinguished literary critic and arranges for Simon to go to work for Landry, Landry and Bartlett, a distinguished publisher of literary fiction. Simon’s job is junior assistant editor, with the responsibility of reviewing unsolicited manuscripts. On his first day he meets Julia, who has been fired and whose job he is taking. Julia gives him some tips and leaves. No one at the publishing house really acknowledges Simon, except for Warren Landry, one of the named partners and Elaine Geller, the Firm’s publicity director. One of the other named partners, Preston Bartlett, has had some sort of break down and is living in an asylum. He shows up at the offices from time to time. Warren Landry is described as a charismatic lady’s man, with a past in military intelligence. “His diction and accent combined the elongated vowels of a New England blueblood with the dentalized plosives and flat a’s of a Chicago gangster.” After about six months at Landry, Landry and Bartlett, Warren Landry pays a visit to Simon and assigns him the job of editing a novel called “The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic”, “a steamy bodice-ripper based on the Rosenberg case.” This is not the type of novel the Firm would normally consider. Warren explains to Simon that the firm is languishing and in need of money and that he believes the novel will be a best seller and bring the firm to solvency. Simon is also told that the existence of the novel is a secret. “It was strange that I, of all the young editors in New York, should have been chosen to work on that book…My being assigned “The Vixen” was, I thought, pure coincidence.” As he reads through the novel Simon struggles with its content and its portrayal of Ethel Rosenberg as a sexual temptress, someone very different from who she was. He has lunch with his Uncle Madison in an effort to seek advice without disclosing the information about the novel. His Uncle, an arrogant man, advises him to make the “lady writer…fall in love with you.” Simon asks to meet the mysterious author, Anya Partridge, who interestingly lives in the same asylum as Prescott Bartlett. They immediately begin a romantic relationship. Simon continues to struggle with editing what is a terrible novel and his interactions with Anya become ever more steamy until suddenly, Anya disappears. When Simon returns to the asylum to ask after her, he decides to pay a visit to Preston Bartlett, who advises that the firm is not quite what he thinks it is. He also learns a bit about his favorite professor, although that comes later. From here, things become extremely interesting, as Simon struggles with his ethical obligations and morality. The novel ends with this thought about life: “Everything was beautiful except what we do when we forget our humanity, our human dignity, our higher purpose.” Words to live by! I loved this novel. It is a great story with lots of twists and turns and interesting and complex characters. It is beautifully written and gives the reader a lot to think about in the midst of all the action. If you like this review subscribe to www.frombriefstobooks.com for more!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mimi Pockross

    I found this book while beginning to write something about my own familiarity with vixens. I also knew that during the seventies my book club was affixed with feminist literature and we read something by Francine Prose. Unfortunately, I can't remember what book it was. Those two reasons led me to plow through The Vixen very quickly. As one of the other readers has commented, it's a fast read. And, as others have commented, it does discuss in a unique and timely fashion the question of morality. I found this book while beginning to write something about my own familiarity with vixens. I also knew that during the seventies my book club was affixed with feminist literature and we read something by Francine Prose. Unfortunately, I can't remember what book it was. Those two reasons led me to plow through The Vixen very quickly. As one of the other readers has commented, it's a fast read. And, as others have commented, it does discuss in a unique and timely fashion the question of morality. I've always been interested in the Rosenbergs and that era of our country. What was not comfortable for me was the depth of the characters and the plot. It was almost as if Ms. Prose was writing a satire of her own book. The setting was New York, always of interest to a starved Westerner like myself, included nice ideas for sex, and had all the other elements of what makes a best seller. The Coney Island setting was a great choice and the insertion of past literary references (Simon was not recommended for going further in his studies of the old world) rounded out the story. Sometimes Simon's ruminations were tiresome, but in all I enjoyed the book and admire the author's ability to tell her story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tina Rae

    So I really enjoyed this book! It’s about a time period that I actually know very little about and I learned a lot from reading this. I didn’t know anything about the Rosenbergs (and I’m shocked that I didn’t!) nor a ton about the McCarthy witch hunts so I found this a very interesting read. It did lose me a bit in the middle but when it picked back up with the ~twist, I really loved it. The entire second half had me totally hooked and I couldn’t stop reading! This also had some slight Mad Men vib So I really enjoyed this book! It’s about a time period that I actually know very little about and I learned a lot from reading this. I didn’t know anything about the Rosenbergs (and I’m shocked that I didn’t!) nor a ton about the McCarthy witch hunts so I found this a very interesting read. It did lose me a bit in the middle but when it picked back up with the ~twist, I really loved it. The entire second half had me totally hooked and I couldn’t stop reading! This also had some slight Mad Men vibes and I really enjoyed reading about a publishing house in the 50s. Granted, I doubt most of them were like this one but I really loved that setting. So overall, I really, really enjoyed this one and I’m so glad to have read it! I absolutely love finding historical fiction covering topics and eras I know little about. I always learn so much! If you are also a little fuzzy on Cold War details, I would recommend giving this one a read!! Thank you so much to Harper for sending a copy of this one my way in exchange for an honest review!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Having recently read "Ethel Rosenberg - An American Tragedy" by Anna Sebba I thought I should explore "The Vixen" to see how truth and fiction matched up. I found with The Vixen that I really enjoyed the writing but just couldn't connect with any of the characters or with the Ethel Rosenstein book. I kept reading because I thought something interesting would happen eventually but there was just too much day to day Simon life and his constant introspection. He seems to be in a constant state of a Having recently read "Ethel Rosenberg - An American Tragedy" by Anna Sebba I thought I should explore "The Vixen" to see how truth and fiction matched up. I found with The Vixen that I really enjoyed the writing but just couldn't connect with any of the characters or with the Ethel Rosenstein book. I kept reading because I thought something interesting would happen eventually but there was just too much day to day Simon life and his constant introspection. He seems to be in a constant state of anxiety and it seems pretty obvious from the beginning that he is being set up for something. I did not however envision the actual ending and how it all got tied up in a nice bow. It is a well written book, with an interesting storyline but not my favorite by this author. I received an ARC from the publisher Harper Collins through NetGalley and appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    I'm very thankful that I read Prose's 'Blue Angel' before this book. Where that book was excellently paced, 'The Vixen' took nearly 200 pages to become interesting. I found the main character Simon Putnam's naivete and youthful awkwardness extremely tedious. A great writer should be able to create different personalities and keep them engaging, so when I say Prose is too intelligent a writer to successfully pull off an insecure neophyte, it is meant both as a compliment and a critique. Still a f I'm very thankful that I read Prose's 'Blue Angel' before this book. Where that book was excellently paced, 'The Vixen' took nearly 200 pages to become interesting. I found the main character Simon Putnam's naivete and youthful awkwardness extremely tedious. A great writer should be able to create different personalities and keep them engaging, so when I say Prose is too intelligent a writer to successfully pull off an insecure neophyte, it is meant both as a compliment and a critique. Still a fan, but she can definitely do better.

  30. 5 out of 5

    kevin moore

    A bit mystifying why your central character, around whom others' actions revolve, has no form or substance. If you're going to make him a Harvard graduate give him some defining traits - and then to have him drawn to Mythology and Folklore studies? ugh. I felt trapped in a circular story that simply looped around repeating same themes. Formulaic to the point of distraction. A bit mystifying why your central character, around whom others' actions revolve, has no form or substance. If you're going to make him a Harvard graduate give him some defining traits - and then to have him drawn to Mythology and Folklore studies? ugh. I felt trapped in a circular story that simply looped around repeating same themes. Formulaic to the point of distraction.

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