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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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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