Review: Who Is Maud Dixon?

Summer reads (aka beach books) get a bad rap, the phrase often treated as a synonym for mindless drivel.  But I can’t think of a better book to recommend for summer readying than Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews. It’s fun, easy lifting, and hard to put down. And yet, there’s a lot in in that will leave you thinking long after you finish. In other words, you can have fun while reading something worthwhile and thought-provoking.

Maud The plot is unusually clever, and it’s hard to say much about it without giving too much away. The twists and turns begin not long after the prose and story have drawn you in. The first one caught me completely by surprise, and while I had a pretty good notion of the last big one, there are so many detours along the way that no one will guess them all (and it doesn’t matter if you do).

Here’s what I can tell you:  The plot involves a writer whose first novel is a wild success, a bestseller soon to be a movie. The author uses the pen name Maud Dixon and insists on complete anonymity (yes, you’ll think immediately of Elena Ferrante, though unlike Ferrante, Dixon is struggling mightily to produce a second novel).

Because she can’t be bothered with day-to-day chores, she hires an assistant, Florence Darrow, who of course is sworn to secrecy. The setting allows Alexandra to give readers a peek inside the world of writing and publishing (hint; not that pretty).

The relationship that develops between these two women is complicated, to put it mildly, and one of the beauties of the novel is that readers will find both characters sympathetic, dishonest, evil, vulnerable and unreliable, depending on the moment. In this way it follows the trend in domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and The Last Flight. The reader is never quite sure who to believe at any given moment, much less who is the villain and who the victim.

Besides being a great and fun story with two flawed and realistic protagonists, the book offers an inside look at the New York publishing industry, examines what happens when a small town girl who was always the smartest in the room suddenly finds herself outclassed in the big city, and delves into the question of whether we can ever escape our past and become a new, completely independent person – a goal, I’d venture, many of us have toyed with at some point in our lives.

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Mark Willen