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.Read more...
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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-29
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
For the readers who are familiar with the previous works of Francine Prose, her latest novel, Mister Monkey, might come as a surprise. Inspired by Prose’s own experience of sitting through a fiasco-ridden children’s musical, Mister Monkey tells the tale of an off-off-off Broadway show that has outlived its fame, and it’s the funniest work Prose has published since 2011’s My New American Life.
Like the famous children’s character Curious George, Mister Monkey is a pet chimp living in the city. But unlike George, who always manages to get out of trouble with his charm, in this musical, Mister Monkey is accused of stealing a wallet and is put on trial for larceny.
Sad and funny at the same time, this outlandish storyline is enriched by an assortment of narratives told by the people involved with the musical, each giving their own perspective on the production: Margot, the Yale drama school graduate who is coming to grips with the fact that her career has been reduced to playing a lawyer defending a monkey in a failed musical; Adam, the 12-year-old playing the monkey onstage, who can’t seem to separate his adolescent emotions from his stage life; and Ms. Sonya, the Xanax-popping teacher of young Edward, who goes to see the musical with his dying grandfather. Then there is Ray himself, who wrote the Mister Monkey children’s book that inspired the play as a way to get over PTSD after his deployment.
With each narrative, Prose reveals a new connection between strangers, turning a seemingly silly story into a profound example of the human psyche. What’s more, her wit and dark humor make this a serious page-turner. Mister Monkey is nothing short of a delight.