In a world where facts are questioned but truth still matters, Francine Prose’s latest novel, The Vixen, raises questions of what we know, how we know it and whose stories get told.
Newly graduated from Harvard, Simon Putnam isn’t sure how to make his way in the world. After a harrowing evening with his parents, watching the execution of his mother’s childhood friend Ethel Rosenberg and her husband, Julius (American citizens convicted of spying for the Soviet Union), Simon finds himself with a new job at a major New York publishing house. Once there, he is handed a challenge: to prepare for publication a salacious, pulpy, vaguely terrible novel about the Rosenbergs.
As Simon works to uncover the story behind the novel, he discovers more secrets than he could have imagined. While the plot of The Vixen is rich and surprising, Simon’s narrative voice carries the novel. As he goes along, he tries to make sense of how individual and collective histories interact with stories, and how they complicate and contradict each other. His engaging inquiry asks the reader to invest in this world, one that is both far from and adjacent to our own.
Simon takes us through New York restaurants and lush lunches, from Coney Island amusement rides to his childhood home, from the swanky publishing office to his roach-ridden apartment. In each moment, Prose evokes a sense of place that feels crucial to Simon’s process of discovery. This is, in many ways, a novel of New York in a particular moment.
The Vixen doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s a lot of fun to read. Prose is a master of language, and her captivating words are all the more striking in contrast to the novel’s intentional profanity. Good fiction entertains and asks questions, gesturing to truths beyond the novel itself. The Vixen does just that, with an extra note of fun.