The acclaimed New York Times best-selling 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 12-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.
©2016 Francine Prose (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
“Mister Monkey” surprised me, chapter by chapter, with its charm, insights and warmth.
The novel focuses on a low-budget, low-quality off-Broadway production of a children’s musical play, “Mister Monkey.” Each chapter focuses on one character, sometimes an actor, sometimes a backstage worker, sometimes an audience member. Francine Prose weaves all these small lives together in a way that makes you feel for their efforts and their longings. Many of the characters were obnoxious on the surface, but sensitive and concerned in their thoughts. And there are serious themes throughout, never overplayed, including thoughts on Darwin and evolution, colonialism, animal rights and global warming. One amusing scene involves a kindergarteners’ debate over the roles of monkeys and dinosaurs in evolution.
“Mister Monkey” reminded me of other enjoyable books that slide among the points of view of weird but likeable characters in interrelated chapters, like the wonderful “Skippy Dies” (kids and teachers at a Dublin boarding school) and “Capital” by John Lanchester (residents of a London street in the financial crisis).
Kirby Heyborne is a favorite narrator who often captures the voices of younger characters with a sense of wonder. Nan McNamara also read well.
Overall, a remarkable book.
Mister Monkey is a life journey of carefully-crafted characters. Each wandering through their own humanity, love and growth.
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