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THE VIXEN

Smart, assured fiction from a master storyteller and thoughtful social commentator.

A trashy anti-communist novel poses a moral dilemma for a young editor.

On June 19, 1953, narrator Simon Putnam and his parents grimly watch a TV reporter announce that the Rosenbergs have been executed as Soviet spies. With her customary deft hand, Prose sketches the family dynamic as they comment on the coverage: Recent Harvard grad Simon loves his idealistic mother and cynical father but is embarrassed by the immigrant origins they share with the Rosenbergs. His mother grew up with Ethel on the Lower East Side, which is not something Simon wants getting around at Landry, Landry, and Bartlett, the distinguished publishing house where his uncle Madison, a feared literary critic, gets him an entry-level job. Simon hopes to follow Madison’s tracks out of Coney Island, so he’s thrilled when charismatic Warren Landry asks him to edit a manuscript, until he realizes that The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic depicts Ethel Rosenberg as a communist Mata Hari seducing every man in sight and, by the way, as guilty as hell. The firm is in dire financial shape, Warren confides; if Simon can make this mess “less bad” they could have a sorely needed bestseller. Tantalized by the prospect of a promotion, plus the alluring photo of author Anya Partridge, Simon suppresses his qualms and gets to work. Hilarious excerpts from the appalling manuscript provide Prose’s characteristic humor in a story that otherwise has a more serious tone than her norm. Numerous hints are dropped that this project is not what it seems, and readers who know their American cultural history may spot the big reveal well before Simon does, but Prose maintains our interest with a vivid portrait of his internal conflicts: guilt over his participation in “this commodification of Ethel’s tragedy” intensified by guilt over distancing himself from his parents; lust for the intriguingly weird Anya conflicting with a crush on supernice publicity director Elaine Geller. Simon gets a stinging reality check in the novel’s climax, but he also gets a partial revenge and finds his life’s direction in the mildly improbable but touching final developments.

Smart, assured fiction from a master storyteller and thoughtful social commentator.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-301214-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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