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Tuesday, October 17, 2017
5:03 pm edt
Mister Monkey: A Novel by Francine Prose has been on my Must Read and Review list ever since it was first published in
hardback last year. For whatever reasons, however, I neglected to request an ARC from the publisher. Imagine my surprise,
then, when a paperback copy [just released today] arrived unexpectantly, at my door.**
While I have difficulty
writing them myself, my ideal novel is well-constructed with tight plot lines (no loose ends left untied) and complex characters.
Prose’s 18th work of fiction [she has also written four novels for young adults as well as seven tomes of
non-fiction] has all these elements expressed in eleven neatly packaged chapters. Each one a narrative focusing on a character’s
point of view…
Let me explain.
The off-off-off-off Broadway third rate, shopworn production
of Mister Monkey, the Musical is based upon the ageless beloved children’s novel, Mister Monkey.
It is not what any of its actors nor the director wanted or even hoped for it to be.
Margot, a talented Yale
Drama School graduate who longs for better parts and cannot believe she has stooped so low, finds herself portraying a lawyer
in an orange wig and all too tight sequined short dress that barely covers… well... It’s just not right for her
nor the part. She feels both her life on the stage and her chance of true love and romance have waned for the worst. She has,
she fears, seen better days in the spotlight of both venues. The teenager gymnast in the brown chenille bedspread monkey costume,
her clueless but nonetheless good looking leading man, her role’s nemesis played by a moonlighting emergency room nurse,
and the bumbling director who envisions greatness all share Margot’s angst. Each grapples with his/her own version of
what she considers a nightmare from which she dreads she will never wake up.
During one particular performance,
a young boy in the audience yells out to his grandfather, “Are you enjoying this?!” The musical momentarily halts,
lines and props are dropped. The entire cast and crew are skewed off-course into the swirling maelstrom of love, art, ambition,
youth and aging. All are spun into the author’s whirlwind skillful probing of the stressful complications of modern
urban(e) life. Time stretches and undulates; passions ebb and flow; loves are found, lost, then found again.
What I particularly enjoyed about Mister Monkey is that it is a tri-weave plot line: a story within a story within a story. Kinda like separate DNA strands
laced together to form a whole person. Only, in this case, a whole novel that comes alive with insightful vivacity and voracity.
Talk about having the perfect conceit and wielding the nearly perfect writing talent to execute it! Prose not only wrote the
original internal novel’s plot line, the musical loosely based upon it [the original author is horrified by what happened
to his book in its transformation from the literary to theatrical world]… but also wrote the stories of the impacts
on characters – both frail and resilient – in and intertwined on all three levels.
be. In her deftly experienced hand, Prose brings it all together in a most thought-provoking as well enjoyable read; both
a delight and an eye-opening insight into societal norms and expectations – or lack thereof. Mister Monkey,
an autumn must-read, is a serious literary commentary on life couched in, um, as the trite metaphor goes, a barrel
Francine Prose, in a nutshell… or, rather, if you will a banana peel, is, in fact, the master
of, um, prose. In every sense of the words.
Enjoy the read!
**You just gotta love
the publicist at Harper Collins who can read my mind and caters to my literary needs. Thank you, Lily Lopate! And, you also
just gotta love the young, good-looking UPS driver who knocks on my door each delivery, chuckling, “Another book for
you!” Every other week, it seems, is Happy Holidays gift time.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of
Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her sixth novel.