Simon & Schuster
The responsible pleasures of Vladímír, a virtuoso debut novel by Julia Might Jonas, start with its cowl: a detailed up from the neck down of man’s very good open-shirted chest and arms resting on his clothed crotch. That naughty cowl, mixed with the novel’s title, additionally serves as a warning that that is going to be a sly and subversive learn. In spite of everything, there’s just one Vladimir who reigns supreme within the literary realm, so any novel that gestures to Vladimir Nabokov and, by implication, Lolita is a novel to be cautious of.
Our unnamed narrator right here, our Humbert Humbertina, if you’ll, is a professor of girls’s literature in her late 50s who’s so witty, sharp and seductive that, as a reader, I used to be just about putty in her arms, as generations of her college students have been.
When the novel opens, nonetheless, our narrator finds her standing and feminist credentials jeopardized due to her husband’s many years of dangerous conduct. John is the chair of the English Division at their small liberal arts school and he is a seasoned philanderer. The couple has all the time had an open marriage, so our narrator was vaguely conscious of those so-called affairs with college students.
However sexual politics on campus have modified over time, most dramatically with the arrival of #MeToo. A petition, signed by over 300 college students, is asking for John’s removing. Whispers are rising louder that our narrator herself ought to resign as a result of she was an “enabler.”
Here is our narrator’s dismissive preliminary tackle the scenario:
At one level we might have referred to as these affairs consensual, for they had been. … Now, nonetheless, younger ladies have apparently misplaced all company in romantic entanglements. Now my husband was abusing his energy, by no means thoughts that energy is the explanation they desired him within the first place. …
As to the age of the ladies, I felt too linked to my expertise of myself after I was in school to protest. Once I was in school, the lust I felt for my professors was overwhelming. It didn’t matter in the event that they had been males or ladies, engaging or unattractive, good or common, I desired them deeply. I desired them as a result of I believed that they had the ability to inform me about myself.
It’s possible you’ll recoil from our narrator’s cool rationale — her discounting of her husband’s profiting from generations of younger ladies — however certainly you too can hear how deft she is in her professorial means of complicating the scenario, prodding us readers to have a look at issues from one other angle.
What additionally complicates the scenario is Vladimir, a newly employed assistant professor who arrives on campus together with his emotionally fragile spouse, a author, and their small youngster.
Vladimir is a beautiful flirt, given, as our narrator says, to “sensual show(s) of his corporeal magnificence”; at one level he stands in our narrator’s workplace doorway and “carry[s] his left hand over his head, … stretching his physique, like a nymph at a fountain.”
As a post-menopausal girl of substance, our narrator way back turned off the pilot mild of her personal lust; now Vladimir has re-ignited it. Confessing that “[v]anity has all the time been my poorest high quality,” she commits herself to a routine of early morning boot camps on the native Y, whitens her tooth, massages her cellulite, and makes an attempt to, as she says, “erect a fortress of care and grooming” round her physique — all of the whereas hating herself for doing so; for worrying that Vladimir could also be repulsed by, say, the looks of her higher arm: its “flesh hanging like a ziplock bag half-filled with pudding.”
I ought to have talked about on the outset that Vladímír, the novel, opens with a Prologue through which our narrator describes Vladimir, the person, unconscious and shackled to a chair, a prisoner of our narrator’s outsized erotic fantasies. However that weird picture may need pre-emptively closed your thoughts to the attract of this extraordinary novel, which is so sensible and droll in regards to the absurdities and mortifications of ageing and sexual disgrace, in addition to the shifting energy dynamics on school campuses.
Above all, amidst this horrible present wave of guide banning and thought policing, Jonas’s debut raises the query — as Lolita itself all the time has — of how we decide the “worth” of literature. We are able to search to suppress that which upsets our sense of morality or we are able to interact with what’s disturbing, offensive, deeply unsuitable. And, when studying the suave Vladímír, we are able to even have a rattling good time doing it, too.