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Mister Monkey, Francine Prose, Harper, 2016, 285 pp
I read Mister Monkey for an on-line discussion group. I have always meant to read Francine Prose but somehow never have. Now she has entranced me and I will read more.
I was one of the few participants in the discussion who liked the book. I think because for me it was about people with unfulfilled dreams, one of my obsessions as I get older and look back at the dreams I had.
Mister Monkey is a children's musical adapted from a novel written by a Vietnam vet with PTSD. Said novel was converted by an editor into what became a bestselling picture book for kids, along the lines of Curious George. Now the author is rich but he hates the musical because it makes a travesty of his original story.
Mister Monkey, the novel by Francine Prose (quite erroneously described as "madcap" by whoever wrote the dust jacket copy) uses the musical as a framework to take readers into the lives and souls of various people connected to an off-off-off-off-Broadway production of a tired old show. Included are several of the actors, the director, the costume designer, a grandfather, and Ray, the original author of the children's book. Each chapter features one of them but in circling around begins to connect them all in interesting and surprising ways.
I am not much of a theater goer but one of my sons spent a year of college being a set builder and one of his daughters acts in every play she can at high school. In fact, I have always liked novels set in the theater, so here I was again enmeshed in all the tacky backstage interpersonal trauma of actors, directors, playwrights, and support crew. Ms Prose must have some theater experience because she crafts those scenes so perfectly.
Ultimately though, this is a story about people of all ages and different walks of life who are mildly unhappy but looking for joy wherever they can find it. I could not put it down.
Today the shortlist for the 2017 Tournament of Books came out and Mister Monkey made the list! I have read 6 of the 16 books that will compete in the tournament. Watch for more reviews of the rest of the books since I always attempt to read as many of them as I can.
(Mister Monkey is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)