Francine Prose's Mister Monkey is a study in — unbelievably — empathy. Centered on a group of off-off-off-Broadway theater folks and the children's play they are producing, the novel explores the inner dialogue of each member, along with their inevitably resulting broken self-esteem. This is a novel about the human condition, in all its glory and fragility. Prose shows us how everyone — the hormonal 12-year-old, the failing grandfather, the kind ER nurse, the desperate middle-aged female actor, the slightly strange waiter — everyone — is the same underneath. We all share fear, dashed dreams, anxiety about the future, the longing for human contact, for love, for security. Prose does an excellent job of pinning down the barely recognizable emotions we all share, and this novel is a masterpiece of character development. Beautiful! Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author weaves an ingenious, darkly humorous, and brilliantly observant story that follows the exploits and intrigue of a constellation of characters affiliated with an off-off-off-off Broadway children’s musical.
Mister Monkey — a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee — is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer...and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.
Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.
With her trademark wit and verve, Prose delves into humanity’s most profound mysteries: art, ambition, childhood, aging, and love. Startling and captivating, Mister Monkey is a breathtaking novel from a writer at the height of her craft.
The story of Prose’s (Lovers at the Chameleon Club Paris 1932) latest novel is the story of Mister Monkey a regrettable children’s musical itself based on the unlikely success of a (fictional) novel written several decades earlier by a Vietnam vet named Ray and starring a monkey “rescued” from the jungles of Africa to live a domestic life with a human family. That the musical production is terrible is the one thing on which all the characters agree. Margot the bitter leading lady who was once a promising young actress and is now questioning her choices; Adam its problem child star in a gorilla suit whom all adults want to punish or medicate; Mario a lifelong waiter in the audience who takes a shine to Margot: everyone knows the story its premise and its songs are awful. Each chapter relays the perspective of a different character including the play’s actors and more tangential people. In one section an aging gentleman takes his grandson to the play trying to forge a deeper relationship with him in the face of his own ailing health and mounting isolation. In another chapter that same boy’s kindergarten teacher confronts the depths of her loneliness during a very bad date at an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn where the waiter happens to be Mario. As absorbing and three dimensional as each character is the development of the actual novel feels awkwardly formulaic and the strangeness of the play itself (for instance Margot plays the monkey’s lawyer in a rainbow wig) is stilted despite the genuine intrigue of each scene in the novel. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"Francine Prose has made something so original with Mister Monkey, her dizzying Ferris wheel of a novel, that it boggles the lucky reader’s mind. Besides making me laugh out loud, its earned warmth & yes its effortless insight into the madness of the human heart creates pure delight. Francine Prose’s best novel." John Guare, distinguished playwright and author of The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation, and Landscape of the Body
"How does Prose do it? With precision, intelligence and wicked jocularity. She measures art in monkeys. She demands an evolution. This book hilariously swings through a backstage rank with hormones, ambition and an unforgettable cast of characters. Prose’s words entice and excite like a darkened theater where the show is just about to begin." Samantha Hunt, author of Mr. Splitfoot
"Prose is at her consummate, canny best in this superbly incisive comedy of errors, a cleverly choreographed relay in which each character subtly passes the narrating baton on to the next, and what a beguiling and bedeviled cast this is!...Each character’s inner soliloquy is saturated with yearning and profound spiritual inquiries as the silly play covertly evokes questions about truth and lies, evolution and extinction, and how we care for each other and the world. Prose is resplendent in this exceptionally keen, artistic, funny, empathic [sic], and intricate dance of longing and coincidence." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"An indelible cast of characters….In this strong, humane, and funny novel, Prose has treated us to an enthralling entertainment both on and off stage." Boston Globe
"Expertly constructed, Mister Monkey is so fresh and new it’s almost giddy, almost impudent with originality. Tender and artful, Prose’s 15th novel is a sophisticated satire, a gently spiritual celebration of life, a dark and thoroughly grim depiction of despair, a screwball comedy, a screwball tragedy....It’s gorgeous and bright and fun and multi-faceted, carrying within it the geological force of the ages. It’s a book to be treasured. It’s that good. It’s that funny. It’s that sad. It’s that deceptive and deep." New York Times Book Review, front cover review
About the Author
Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City.