Thursday, August 18, 2022

Review: Vladimir, by Julia May Jonas

First I want to say that if you are ever looking for book recommendations, please follow the magnificent Joanna Rakoff on Instagram because she is amazing when it comes to touting and promoting writers and books she loves. And read her books too, obviously! 

That said, today I'm going to talk about Julia May Jonas' campus-novel satire Vladimir, about a late-middle-aged woman, nameless throughout, an academic married to an academic, John. John is going through the wringer as some of his former students, with whom he'd had consensual-ish sexual relationships in the past, are coming back to accuse him of misconduct. Our narrator claims, not very convincingly, that she was A-OK with his affairs and has no anger towards her husband, a man she barely speaks to although they still live together and act like they have a happy marriage. And she claims to also be very interested in being there for her young women students while exhibiting some lowkey animosity towards them. Which is understandable. 

So things take off when our narrator meets and gets a crush on Vladimir, a young hottie and up and coming writer who's just started teaching at her school. She is attracted to his good looks, his smarts, his backstory and the opportunity to stick it to her husband at a vulnerable time. Meanwhile his wife appears to be troubled and something may or may not be going on between her and John.

This is a bonkers book. The topic of professors who sleep with their students is well-trodden ground but we don't usually hear from the wives. Our narrator is a brittle, bitter woman in total denial about the amount of anger she harbors towards her husband as well as towards his lovers. I feel for her and I understand her anger but I can't help but ache a little for how hard she is on the young women. At the same time I don't expect her to be sympathetic to them. They represent a threat to her way of life, her image of herself and the image she and her husband present to the world. Any empathy towards them would mean facing up to a lot of things she doesn't want to face up to.

When events take off they just go off the rails so fast and the way Jonas wraps it up is kind of perfect given all the chaos. Nothing is solved; the marriage is still an empty shambles and the narrator experiences only the briefest hints of growth. What we end up with is the way toxic gender roles infect every corner of our consciousness, whether we admit it or not.

It's been a few months since I've read Vladimir and my reactions may be off a bit but this is a really crazy-good book I'd recommend for the literary beach bag. And I have a lot of personal feelings about this book that I'm not sharing because reasons. I gave away my copy at the local Little Free Library and I hope whoever ended up with it enjoys it as much as I did.

Pick up your own copy at I receive a small commission on sales. 

I received an advance copy from the publisher.

1 comment:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad this one worked for you. It wasn't for me and ended up being a DNF....something I try to avoid.