"The Vixen," Reviewed by Pat Sainz
In “The Vixen,” by Francine Prose, the main character Simon Putnam, is a recent 1950s Harvard college graduate with a degree in Folklore and Mythology, and an inexperienced book editor at a prestigious publishing company.
Simon feels lucky that his Uncle Madison, a well-known literary critic, uses his clout to get the job for him at Landry, Landry, and Putnam. The exclusive company in Manhattan prides itself on publishing works in “good taste” that appeal to literary critics more than to a massive audience.
Simon is surprised to find out that the first book he is given to edit is a lurid, poorly written story, “The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic.” Simon would have rejected it after reading the first page. Warren Landry, CEO of the company and famously discriminating, has given the book explicitly to Simon, informing him that no one else but him can see it and his edits must be limited.
Anya Partridge is the unlikely author. She has never written anything and is an aspiring actress. Her photo is sultry and suggestive. She is beautiful. When Simon meets her with plans to beg her to basically rewrite the novel, he discovers her residence is an upscale mental institution. She refuses to make any changes to the book. Anya’s behavior and lack of interest lead Simon to believe that she has very little to do with the book.
Anya’s novel features an unlikeable predator, Esther Rosenstein. Her lackluster husband is Julius Rosenstein. The names are obvious connections to the real Esther and Julius Rosenburg, alleged Soviet spies accused of giving top-secret government information to the Russians that included nuclear weapon designs. They were executed in New York.
Readers who might have had any sympathy with Ethel Rosenburg will have no compassion for Esther in this novel. The fictional Esther is bold, scandalous, duplicitous, an indifferent mother and an instigator in the devious plot. The real Ethel was the opposite of all that.
Simon knows the book will be a commercial success, but he remains horrified and puzzled by the decision to publish the book. He feels he is betraying his mother who knew the musical and kind Ethel Rosenberg as a young girl. Simon’s mother believes in Ethel’s innocence. Upsetting his mother disturbs him as much as the idea of having his name associated with such a terrible novel.
Simon uncovers chilling secrets and lies that indicate nefarious and self-serving reasons for the book’s imminent publication. Giants in the literary world whom he believed to be principled heroes have betrayed him.
Simon tells the story of his experience in the book “The Vixen” which indicates his surviving the experience.
Readers will find this novel to be a satisfying mixture of drama, mystery and surprising humor. Simon’s morality, compassion, and kindness make him a memorable personality among flawed, broken characters.
The author is a seasoned fiction writer and a recipient of many writing honors and awards.