Book review: La Renarde | WSHU



Seventy years ago last spring, husband and wife Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union, largely on the testimony against them of Ethel’s brother David Greenglass, who worked at the lab. atomic of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The Rosenbergs maintained their innocence until the day of their death, although they were executed at Sing Sing on June 19, 1953. President Eisenhower refused to invoke the clemency of the executive, making it clear that he believed in their guilt, like many people in the world. But not everyone. To this day, expeditious trial and execution – in peacetime – remain controversial.

New books keep coming out about the Rosenbergs, especially about 37-year-old matron-looking Ethel who allegedly typed only information. Last June, two critically acclaimed publications appeared: A Biography of British Writer Anne Sebba’s Biographer titled Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. The other, 21 Days Later (and the subject of this review), is a clever, serious, funny, satirical and twisty novel by award-winning American writer Francine Prose titled The Vixen.

There’s something about our own divisive ideological culture that undoubtedly prompts us to revisit the Rosenbergs and the Red Scare of the ’50s, and Prose has found an ingenious way of doing it that explores the ways in which truth and lies interact. , and how sexual desire and the pursuit of success can conflict with consciousness, even blurring the sense of one’s authentic self.

Enter Simon Putnam, a likable, inexperienced but ambitious first-person narrator and recent literature graduate from a loving middle-class Jewish family on Coney Island. Handsome, with a Mayflower Puritan whose last name was stamped on his immigrant father by a wag on Ellis Island, Simon is smart enough to have won a scholarship at Harvard, but he is unable to find suitable employment. To his surprise and delight, his well-known uncle Madison Putnam, a cynical literary intellectual, finds him a job as junior editor at a prestigious literary publishing house, where Simon is tasked with a pile of losers’ manuscripts.

He worships the aristocratic CEO Warren Landry, sleek, sophisticated, wealthy, consummate WASP. When Landry gives Simon a special and secret project. Simon is flattered, but what a job! He must turn a poorly written novel about Ethel Rosenberg into a slightly less poorly written novel that will be a smash hit and keep the business afloat financially.

The manuscript is called The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, and the author is Anya Partridge, a beautiful eccentric young woman who lives in a mental institution in the upstate. Just correct some of his sentences, the CEO says, but leave the character and concept in place.

Poor Ethel, whom Simon’s mother knew in Brooklyn, and took pity on. In Anya’s book, Ethel Rosenberg is Esther Rosenstein, a sexy man trap who vamps in a fox stole (vixen, you understand?) What is he going to do? One thing, to meet the author of this hideous manuscript, whose photo on the cover of the book has already aroused her passions and try to persuade her to make some changes and protect the Ethel her mother knew.

The plot now takes a surprising and suspenseful turn. Anya seduces Simon onto one of the rides they do in Coney Island, her naive sense of sharing her past with her until she suddenly disappears. It is no spoiler to say that Simon realizes to his shame that he has been played. The tale, he muses, ignites “the shock of discovery, the accelerated heartbeat when the truth tears off the mask of a lie.” Only life is more complicated. ”Both statements ring true as Francine’s own fiction ironically reveals.



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