‘Vladimir,’ a Debut Commemorating the Breach – Up to a Point

By Julia May Jonas
239 pages. Simon & Schuster. 27 dollars.

To read “Vladimir” (or any of the campus novels published in the last decade), you have to conclude that teaching the humanities at the college level is a pure hell. One who spends years training just to land – if she’s lucky! – struggling to make a living in a place she never intended to live, drowning in administrative duties and serving to the pleasure of fickle and empowered students. To quote Peggy Lee: Is that all?

Lee’s 1969 hit thesis can be summed up as: Life is a series of terrifying events, and the best solution is to “break out of the booze and have a prom” with friends. your. Anonymous narrator of The debut novel by Julia May Jonas, a 58-year-old literature professor at a college in upstate New York, adopts this philosophy of life.

We meet the narrator at a difficult time. Her husband, John, is the dean of the school’s English department, and he is raging about relationships with students – relationships that have happened in the past, before the school explicitly banned such interactions. such relationship, but details of that relationship recently emerged and culminated in a petition signed by more than 300 people calling for his removal.

The narrator is not very concerned about John’s disproportionate condition. He’s more of a roommate than a husband, and the two always have an agreement where extramarital flirting is tacitly allowed. What pissed her off was the women who came forward. “I wish they could see themselves not as little leaves swept by the wind around a world that doesn’t belong to them, but as strong, sexual women who enjoy taking on a little danger, a a little taboo, a little bit. A bit of fun.” She found them nauseous “after learning caution”.

Now, this is a familiar situation: the idea (angry to some, to others) that past behavior can be punished according to newly imposed and unpredictable standards. before can. But it wasn’t what Jonas was most interested in.

She is more interested in examining the outrages of a culture that viciously patrols women’s desires of all kinds: sex, food, affection, happiness, authority, professional recognition. The narrator begins by explaining her attraction to a “certain type of man” – someone who is “inclusive of desire” who cannot imagine a “incomplete and complete world”. guided entirely by the feeling of wanting and having.” In other words, a man like her husband. But as John’s legal problems multiply, the narrator realizes that this hedonistic construction of masculinity may be on the verge of extinction.

Enter Vladimir Vladinski, a hot young novelist and junior professor of literature. The narrator begins a course in seduction, gets an anti-cellulite and mist massage, diet and exercise, and watches her appearance with vigilance. Vladimir became not only the site of long-repressed terror, but also the instrument of revenge. Revenge is specifically aimed at her husband, and generally at a world that denies women (especially of a certain age) the ecstasy of transgression.

The novel opens with Vladimir unconscious and shackled to a chair. How he got to this position, we don’t understand yet – but we do know who put him there. In his narrator, Jonas attempted to create a woman of monstrous brutality – one in the tradition of Ruth in Fay Weldon’s “The Life and Love of a Devil” or Undine Spragg in Fay Weldon’s “Life and Love” Edith Wharton’s “Customs of the Country”: a character that forces us to question why such qualities as outrageousness and the scent of villainy are only when associated with women.

Among contemporary novelists, Lionel Shriver is the queen of these sour apples. Her characters tend to be resentful, intelligent, picky, gritty, and despise weakness. They’re also irresistible in a way that the narrator “Vladimir” isn’t, perhaps because Jonas is unable to convince the reader of her professor’s recklessness.

Yes, she chased Vladimir. That’s right, she forces him to hold back by using a pair of lace-up lanyards that are only available at her fingertips when she needs them. (Don’t most professors have ropes around their bodies?) But other than this desperate act, she’s a sheep in a wolf’s costume. “I am the most selfish human being I know,” she remarked unconvincingly, with the novel’s rich evidence that she was a forgiving mate, a patient guide, and a a caring mother.

“My prey, my prize, my Vladimir,” she growled as she caught the younger man. But then she sleeps. What seemed like thrilling convictions dissolved into the air around them. It’s hard to imagine Lady Macbeth or Annie Wilkes of “Misery” – the literary sisters in monomania – pausing to consider their actions and thoughts, as Jonas narrator, “I simply needed some food and to sleep – the excitement took over too much from this old girl.”

Jonas is an acidic observer of the body’s torments, and in dramatizing the dangers of appetite, she constructs a story as powerful (and as ancient) as the story. about Adam and Eve. But what begins as a tribute to transgression (yes, please!) turns at the last minute into a strangely conservative moral tale. The two violators of “Vladimir” find no artistic reward or psychological freedom in crossing their boundaries. Instead, they are humiliated and massacred, while the suffering parties remain secure within their institutions, seemingly triumphing in victimhood.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/books/review-vladimir-julia-may-jonas.html ‘Vladimir,’ a Debut Commemorating the Breach – Up to a Point

Fry Electronics Team

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