Julia May Jonas’ debut novel, “Vladimir,” was released on Feb. 1. Narrated by an unnamed English professor in her late fifties, “Vladimir” follows as her life begins to unravel when her husband, John, an English professor, is accused of inappropriate relationships with former students at their small liberal arts college in New York.
The narrator and her husband have a special agreement; they are allowed to sleep with whoever they want outside of their marriage, “no asking, no telling.” It is not until allegations against John turn into attacks on our narrator that their comfortable extra-marital agreement becomes not-so-comfortable. Plus, when a married, successful tenure-track professor named Vladimir Vladinski becomes the object of our narrator’s eye, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about love—and obsession.
“Vladimir” was an incredible read. This novel is primarily a character study—the reader spends most of the story in the narrator's mind rather than in dialogue. The protagonist is cruel, yet intelligent and engaging. The writing itself was sharp and mimicked the intensity of the narrator, which I enjoyed.
The titular Vladimir was a bland character, but it was not so much about him being truly desirable as it was about him being an object of lust. He stood in as a distraction for the narrator and so he felt like a distraction, which ended up working thematically.
This novel deals with a lot of issues; young and old women’s insecurities, desire, and the #MeToo movement. The narrator is an aging woman concerned with wrinkles, her body, and if she is still appealing to men. “Vladimir” does not shy away from these insecurities—although the narrator is old, and in society's eyes, she should not be concerned with enjoying herself, Jonas takes the time to explore both her physical and mental desires with depth.
The narrator is angry with the young woman who started the case against her husband, but not for the reasons I originally expected—her “anger is not so much directed toward the accusations as it is toward the lack of self-regard these women have.” She believes that women should own their lust, rather than shy away from it. While the situation is much more nuanced than this, this point of view created tension in the book that was compelling to read.
As much as I wanted to wholeheartedly love this book, the last ten pages ruin all of the groundwork Jonas laid down for a showstopping ending. I felt disappointed at the turn it took and believe Jonas was hesitant to take the book where I thought it should have gone.
“Vladimir” is a bold debut novel that, although fell flat at the end, was still an enjoyable read. I would recommend it and give it 3 out of 5 stars.