Vixen (The Flappers 1)
Chicago, 1924. Wealthy society schoolgirl Gloria moonlights as the lead singer for a black jazz band; her ‘country’ cousin Clara comes to help Gloria prepare for her wedding, while hiding Clara’s own shady past; and Lorraine is Gloria’s ‘best friend’, constantly upstaged by Gloria’s beauty and talent. Their story is told in alternating chapters from their three different points of view.
The detailed background descriptions, the easy and natural references to the literature, culture and couture of the day, and the effortless use of period language are extremely convincing. On the other hand, Vixen seemed more like an adult romance than young adult fiction. It wasn’t steamy – it just felt to me as though the girls were in their mid-twenties rather than their final year of high school. It bothered me, too, that even the characters who talked about going to university at Barnard or Bryn Mawr had no ambition beyond attaching themselves to the most appropriate man available – Gloria’s talent as a singer notwithstanding, was marriage really the only successful career option for a woman in 1924? More disturbingly, should we suggest to today’s teen girls that it’s the only option?
Despite my quibbles with the plot, I found the reading compelling. I loved every moment of Gloria’s falling for the black pianist Jerome Johnson, and his cautious wooing of her. Larkin’s mastery of the period slang and the way she paints in the setting are glorious. A lushly painted picture of 1920s high life, Vixen is a bit like This Side of Paradise for girls; and though it lacks the bite and irony of Fitzgerald, it gives a fair reflection of the shine.