"Vladimir" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Here is a steamy read for a cold winter day. When I picked up “Vladimir” I was anticipating historical fiction about the current president of Russia but was I ever surprised. It seems the only thing the book’s protagonist, Vladimir Vladinski and Vladimir Putin have in common is that they both like to take off their shirts.
This debut novel depicts a dramatic time in the life of a popular English professor who narrates the book. She teaches at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York where her older husband John, who is also chair of her department, has been placed on leave after being accused of sexual misconduct by several female students.
Her fellow faculty members hound the 58-year-old English professor to denounce her husband at his hearing, but she is distracted by her open infatuation for the hunk Vladimir who has just moved to town with his wife and daughter.
Vlad is not only a newly appointed tenure-track professor in the English department but also the author of a sensual novel. The narrator finds him desperately attractive but also a reminder of the doubts, questions, and longings she has encountered throughout her professional and romantic life. Meanwhile, Vlad’s wife Cynthia is out to steal the narrator's classes and perhaps her husband as well. At the same time, the narrator’s lesbian lawyer daughter has moved back home because of relationship issues with her own partner.
This is an evocative, witty book which captures many aspects of the current socio-political moment. Jonas's writing style is edgy, well-paced and energetic. She creates a web of dialog that ensnares the reader, making it difficult to put the book down. Her characters are smart and darkly funny each struggling to navigate between the boundaries of morality and desire.
Unexpected plot twists make the narrative chaotic at times, but they always seem believable. Jonas deftly speaks to issues of feminism, obsession, patriarchy, mental health, morality and the tension between self-control and desire. “Vladimir” is an entertaining, thought-provoking book.
About the Author: Julia May Jonas is a playwright who teaches theater at Skidmore College. Avid Reader Press is the publisher of this 256-page novel.