- Paperback: 314 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint, 2008 edition (February 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060882034
- ISBN-13: 978-0060882037
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 164 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Blue Angel: A Novel Paperback – February 28, 2006
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Francine Prose may never surpass Joyce Carol Oates in the Prolific Olympics, but she is one of those omnipresent writers whom failed writers hate. And surely she'll make new enemies with her hilarious and cruel 10th novel, Blue Angel, a satire of academia, specifically of English and writing departments. The setting is Euston College in rural Vermont, a place kids go to if they don't get into Bennington; a place where desperate novelists teach creative writing to rich kids who don't seem to read. Prose, who has taught at all the hotshot workshops, skewers both teachers and students in the way only a true insider could.
Swenson, her writing-teacher protagonist, once published a well-received novel but is now consumed by neuroses and repressed lust, and instead of writing tends to get drunk or morose, or both. But when a gifted student named Angela Argo enters his class, he feels like he is coming back to life. His resurrection into "believing" in writing again, and his eventual disappointment, form the core of the novel.
Prose's gift for satire is stunning as she directs her caustic wit at all the current academic debates: sexual-harassment policies warning against all manner of "touching"; deconstructionists versus Old School fuddy-duddies; women's studies teachers who bring everything back to the phallocentric Man killing us all. But Blue Angel's best passages come when the author is describing truly rotten writers. Here's a Connecticut rich girl, a member of Swenson's workshop, who likes to write about all those poor unfortunate nonwhite people. Her story is called "First Kiss--Inner City Blues" and is written from the point of view of a Latino woman who lives in a trash-strewn neighborhood full of gunfire and bad people. Here's the opening line: "The summer heat sat on the hot city street, making it hard for it to breathe, especially for Lydia Sanchez." It's a sentence so bad, it's almost a revelation. --Emily White --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Trust the iconoclastic Prose to turn conventional received wisdom on such subjects as predatory professors, innocent female students and the necessity for a degree of political correctness on campus on their silly heads. In this astutely observed, often laugh-aloud funny and sometimes touching academic comedy, she proves more skeptic than cynic, with an affection for her central character that is surprisingly warm. He is Ted Swenson, a happily married and reasonably content novelist who teaches creative writing at a much less than Ivy League college in darkest Vermont. Stuck on his own latest book, he is nevertheless charmed and intrigued by the writing skills of the unlikely, ungainly and punky Angela Argo. (Prose takes the considerable risk of offering chunks of Angela's work, and the reader can see in it what poor Ted does.) Out of the best intentions--and an only half-acknowledged but not compelling concupiscent itch--he encourages the girl, who is soon hanging on his every word of praise and hinting that if only Ted's editor could see her work... One moment of lustful madness that is not even consummated (a broken tooth intervenes), a disinclination of Ted's editor to see Angela's novel-in-progress and Ted's goose is cooked. Suddenly, every tiny hint of lechery or unfairness toward his students, an outburst at an unbearable dinner party, a kindly gesture are all evidence against him, dragged out in a climactic academic hearing that is at once farcical and horribly realistic. A slightly indeterminate ending--for where does poor Ted, sans wife and job, go from here?--is the only minor blemish on a peerlessly accomplished performance, at once tinglingly contemporary and timelessly funny. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I guess you could say that Blue Angel is a satire of campus women's empowerment movements and, in particular, the delicately defined issues of sexual harassment and consent. While I initially found the book interesting, I got somewhat bored when it an Oleanna turn of sorts.
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Some of the scenes in the book are superb. First, there's Ted Swenson's writing seminar, and the way the students interact and comment about each other's hackneyed puerile stories (anyone who's been in a college writing seminar can certainly relate). Second, there's dinner at the Dean's house for the English Department (with some wonderfully drawn, though perhaps cliched, characters) where an inebriated Swenson acts rather unprofessionally. Third, there are the surrealistic scenes at the end where Swenson becomes completely unraveled. Perhaps the weakest link is the private scenes between Swenson and Angela.
I love the way Prose foreshadows her story with other works of fiction, and the way "Blue Angel" always keeps the reader slightly off balance, yet consistently amused and interested. I honestly can't understand the negative reviews here. I suppose there are those who demand that a book is wrapped up at the conclusion, with all the loose ends neatly tied, but I don't see why this is necessary given that real life is seldom like this.
One minor quibble: I found about a dozen spelling errors, including, in one instance, one of the character's names. But for me, all one has to know is that I'm definitely going to read other works from this fine novelist.
Meet Swenson Swenson, Ms. Prose's Nabokovian style antihero who, though willing to joust with the sexual conceits of university life, only spurs his charger down the lists at a tepid ho-hum trot and ends up forfeiting horse, armor, and title. Battered, but none the wiser, he walks off the last page a pauper with no means of support, no squire, no page, and probably still mired in writer's block.
I believe SS's flaw is in his habit of real-time editing his social interactions. He obsesses over what others may think of his most trivial statements and actions. Come to think of it, this behavior probably accounts for why he's been unable to complete his third novel for the last twenty years. He is so uptight about how others regard him (though in reality it may be how he regards himself) he could pass for British.
The story's villainess, An-GEL-a, a pity that the tip of the tongue only requires two not three steps off the palate, was suspected of being a pathological liar by SS. This was wrong. She was a sociopath. Lying is only one of the many tools used by sociopaths. When confronted by their crimes, liars can be made to feel badly about their behavior. Angela suffered no such compunctions. Interesting how the little vixen was so willing to sell her `innocence' for literary gain, only to become the poster girl for the sexual harassment harpies--nice touch.
Though Ms. Prose's intent was to skewer the sexual harassment crowd such as they existed on American campuses ca. 2000, I think she did an even better job skewering the publishing industry. Look at the diabolical act Angela had to commit to get her book published. A student, her talent unknown but to herself, she knew she was facing the impossible. And look at the despicable self-serving character of Len Currie, SS's big city editor. SS is, or was, an author of some renown, he hadn't bothered his editor in many years, and now he wants to pitch a student whom he believes can really write. Instead, Currie ignores SS's obvious credibility and remarks that student writers are beneath him. I found myself detesting the editor even more than I did, Lauren Healy, the leader of the local femme-Nazis. [Word of the day: `misandry', meaning hatred of males, handy opposite of misogyny. Everyone knows what misogyny means--comes up often in cocktail conversations--but you need a really big dictionary to find misandry.]
All in all, this was a book with a mission, which is to say Ms. Prose didn't write it to be entertaining. If you were disappointed in the outcome, ask yourself how you felt when you read the last page. Were you angry? Ready to take up the lance in righteous indignation? Then Ms. Prose accomplished her mission.
--Ejner Fulsang, author of "A Knavish Piece of Work", Aarhus Publishing, 2006