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A Book Review of the novel by Julia May Jonas
I apologize for the long break between posts, but I’m back!
The first thing I’ll say about Vladimir by Julia May Jonas is that its book cover is misleading.
The six pack abs and slightly hairy chest on the cover do belong to a character in the book named “Vladimir”, but the book is not a romance novel. Vladimir is about a female professor who teaches in a small liberal arts college. Her husband is being tried by the university for having ambiguously consensual sex with some of his young students. The writing is bitingly sarcastic to juxtapose the very cringe-worthy main topics, which focuses on the culpability of sexual assault, the pitfalls of open relationships, and the effects of marriage and power for middle-aged women.
Vladimir purposefully rides the edge of controversial. The author places the characters in situations with no clear or happy resolution. Consequently, the novel evokes a sense of tension and anticipation.
For example, the main character is constantly asked by students and individuals in her community why she doesn’t reject her husband for his sexual misconduct. However, no trial has been conducted and all of the affairs occurred with students over 18 before institutional regulations prohibiting student/teacher relationships were in place. When our narrator is asked to step down from teaching because her presence is “triggering” to students, she becomes enraged. There is no clear way for her to stand up for her husband without facing retribution from her students and colleagues.
The book is called Vladimir because the narrator, who is nameless throughout the book, becomes obsessed with Vladimir, the newest professor at the liberal arts school. The ending of this book involves a bare-chested Vladimir, but was very, ummm, unexpected. Just to give a small teaser, I think the narrator should have been tried for sexual misconduct as well.
This book reminds me of the worst elements of a liberal arts education. The main character is admittedly self-centered and her dreary and depressed inner monologue is almost as toxic as some of the conversations I had in undergrad.
The book is filled with really serious and artistic contemplation about the efficacy of writing and creating. A lot of blah-blah analysis of literature. I love reading essays and analyses of literature, but some of the diatribe in this book made me irrationally angry. It reminded me of the sensation of finishing a grandiose Atlantic article and thinking to myself, “Just because you have a Bachelor of Arts doesn’t mean you can tell me what to think,” while also imagining the author’s head slowly expanding with each subsequent Atlantic publication until eventual explosion.
However, I will say that Vladimir seems intentionally self-aware so that some of the more controversial topics or ideas come across as ironic. It is hard for me to say whether this book is literary fiction at its best or worst. This is another book that I enjoyed but my boyfriend would only read at gunpoint.
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Atlantic Whales (AW):
3/5 Whales. Pleasantly Diverting.