cover image The Vixen

The Vixen

Francine Prose. Harper, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-301214-1

Prose (Mister Monkey) holds up a mirror to a fractured culture in this dazzling take on America's tendency to persecute, then lionize, its most subversive figures. In 1953, recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam watches news of the Rosenberg execution on television with his parents in Brooklyn. Though Simon has profited from a Puritan-sounding name%E2%80%94and hopes to profit further%E2%80%94he's from a liberal Jewish family; his mother attended the same high school as Ethel Rosenberg (and even keeps a small shrine to her in their apartment). It's the height of the Red Scare, when "anyone could be accused" and "everyone was afraid." Flash forward a year, and Simon's literary critic uncle has landed him a job as junior editor at a prestigious but financially unstable publisher. When its founder, Warren Landry, gives Simon his first novel to edit, Simon is aghast to learn the project is a thinly veiled bodice ripper about the Rosenberg trial. It's an unusual book for the publisher, but Landry, a WWII veteran who once ran psyops for the OSS, lays out the stakes: the publisher needs a win, and a pulp yarn that further vilifies the Rosenbergs and Communism seems like just the thing. Why a junior editor would be given such an important task is a slow-burn mystery that propels readers through Prose's recreation of 1950s paranoia, complete with an appearance from Senator Joseph McCarthy's minion and future Trump mentor Roy Cohn. Sidelong commentary on Landry's sexual predation, shot through a lens informed by the #MeToo era, adds further resonance. This is Prose at the top of her game. (June)