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Publisher's Summary

Named one of the best books of 2021 by NPR, The Washington Post, and Financial Times

“No one states problems more correctly, more astutely, more amusingly and more uncomfortably than Francine Prose.... The gift of her work to a reader is to create for us what she creates for her protagonist: the subtle unfolding, the moment-by-moment process of discovery as we read and change, from not knowing and even not wanting to know or care, to seeing what we had not seen and finding our way to the light of the ending.” (Amy Bloom, New York Times Book Review)

"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." (Washington Post)

Critically acclaimed, best-selling 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?

©2021 Francine Prose (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about The Vixen

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Perfectly paced for the period

The Vixen is set in the New York City publishing world during the Cold War. The main character, Simon, is a recent Harvard graduate who fails to get into graduate school and takes a menial and mind numbing job reading what are sure to be rejected manuscripts. He is given the task of editing a novel; the plot is a trashy roman a clef of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and meant to destroy any lingering doubts about their guilt. Simon, however, is Jewish and his parents not only revered the Rosenbergs but his mother had a loose personal relationship with Ethel. Is it a coincidence Simon was chosen to work on this particular book?
The setting in The Vixen is awash with poignant details of the 1950’s - from the boozy three martini lunches to the cheap greasy spoon diners of Manhattan to the peculiarities of manual typewriters. Simon meets the beautiful but possibly mentally ill author of the book and goes down a rabbit hole of intrigue and deception.
Some reviews have said the narration is too slow. I found that it perfectly nuanced a slower paced time without microwaves, cell phones or the internet. Tristan Morris’ modulation is rife with a sense of faded noir and the hesitancy of the brand new and frightening time of post World War II America. And I love novels that spur me to search out historical truths - my next book will a nonfiction and about the Rosenbergs.

6 people found this helpful

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  • 08-23-21

Prose has had us.

This novel about a bad novel is almost as bad as the novel it’s written about. I can’t help but think that Prose has put one over on her publisher and the reading public. Her tongue must have been firmly imbedded in her cheek when she wrote it.

4 people found this helpful

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solid, but could have used a robust edit

the story line is engaging enough, with at least a couple of entertaining twists. but. at times repetitive and an editor with a sharp pencil would have easily carved out 15%. the voice over was excellent and added a lot to the story.

3 people found this helpful

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Weird Book

I finished it and felt like I didn’t understand what the plot of the book.

Very odd ball characters with an even weirder, naive protagonist.

Didn’t really end up appealing to me and I will try to return the book.

2 people found this helpful

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Liked Somewhat but

I I disliked the reader of this novel. His exaggerated inflections annoyed me, but I wanted to hear the whole story so I gave it a chance. The plot was interesting, but the narrator ruminated way too much, adding unnecessary repetitions. The author didn’t know when to end the story. It went on long after the mystery was revealed.

1 person found this helpful

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Confusing plot

Captivating details that kept me listening but times when I told myself the plot twists were too much to believe! Characters were compelling

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Book was ruined by the BAD narrator!

I’ve been an Audible customer for over 10 years and have NEVER felt the need to give a review.
I very much enjoyed the fictionalized story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and am old enough to remember how upset my parents were about their persecution and ultimate deaths. ( In fact, we lived in Ossining during the trial and execution!)
The narrator used the same intonation throughout the book with monotonous expression that didn’t match the prose and ruined the book for me.

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melodramatic

The story is melodrama, the performance melodramatic. in that sense, it might be considered a good performance. it would be a 1940s b-movie film noir.

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Simon in Wonderland

“The Vixen” is an original and clever novel about the Red Scare and the publishing world in the early 1950s. Simon Putnam, the narrator, is a likeable innocent, a recent Harvard graduate who finds himself working in a failing publishing house that may be hiding some creepy secrets. Simon is surrounded by colorful characters who manipulate him into editing a trashy right-wing novel that turns Ethel Rosenberg, the middle-aged mother executed by the US as a Russian spy in 1953, into a glamorous, oversexed Mata Hari. His naivete makes Alice in Wonderland look like a jaded cynic. The listener is way ahead of Simon as he questions the motives and the truthfulness of those around him. And he questions and questions, constantly asking himself what to believe about others, when the answers seem so obvious to the listener. There is a moving subplot about Simon’s childhood in Coney Island and his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, who knew Ethel Rosenberg in high school. The book and the professional narration were both well done.

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Could not listen to narrator!

Narrator's reading was singsong and he not only emphasized nearly every word but he also read with a cadence that put special emphasis on practically every sentence. Hard to listen to. I found myself rereading it in my mind to see if I could focus on the story! That was way too tiring. Perhaps the material also wasn't as good as with Prose's other books, or perhaps not to those not in publishing or New York. I've liked a lot of her other books--especially enjoyed A Changed Man.
I had to return it, as I knew I couldn't/wouldn't keep listening. Thanks Audible, for that option!

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  • Irene Wise
  • 07-05-21

Excellent!

Francine Prose never lets you down and this novel is a brilliant read/listen. It took me a few minutes to appreciate Tristan Morris’ voice, but then I felt he really inhabited the character. This is a satisfying combination of an intriguing plot with a convincing sense of time and place, dealing with politics and personal emotions, always with its heart in the right place.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Zebra Karma
  • 11-24-21

Meandering plot

I did enjoy this book because it offered a window on a particular era of American history. But I found the characters grated after a while and the plot, such as there was one, felt increasingly aimless. And I did keep getting the many female characters mixed up.