Book Club Reflection: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

22 May

My book club got together last week to discuss a fun book, Mister Monkey by Francine Prose. Many of us found the book light and fun, but that was after finishing it with hindsight. While reading it, the piece felt somewhat heavy. All the characters have some rather serious flaws and they struggle. But in the end, it ended happily for most of them. Well, mostly.

There was an interview with Prose that our group shared (link here). In it, she talked about the number of things in the book that were pulled from her experiences. The first was her granddaughter asking her during a show if she was interested in what was going on during a quiet moment in the plot. The second was observing a really bad date, though the one she witnessed involved a man calling his friend to complain about his blind date while she was in the bathroom. The final was a dinner party she went to with her granddaughter’s classmates’ parents. She felt like any question she asked about something non-school related was treated as ludicrous and that the parents talked down to her the same way they did her granddaughter. I love that all these things were brought together in one book.

The structure of this book was very unique. It allowed us to see how the characters saw each other. Rather than just Margo’s opinion of herself as a washed-up aging actress, we see Mario admiring her and Leonard’s impression that her costume is ridiculous. Sonya tries to rationalize her date and thinks that maybe Greg isn’t terrible but Ray and Mario can both clearly see that it is awful. The cast thinks Eleanor is a terribly brusque person but she’s staying in character and is very polite. The character’s stories are resolved, but not in their own plot line. Roger resolves Lakshmi and Eleanor resolves Edward and Leonard. We felt like we could reread the book and get something else out of the nuances we missed the first time. A good comparison to the structure would be Lakshmi’s play where we learn about one character through the stories of the others. Talking about this made us all a bit worried about how others see us.

The Chekhov quote that is sent to Margo at the beginning of the book sums the whole plot up. It’s on page 20 in my copy and reads, “Failures and disappointments make time go by so fast that you fail to notice your real life, and the past when I was so free seems to belong to someone else, not myself.” Many of the characters are wrapped up in their own lives so much that they don’t notice what’s going on around them.

There were two stories we talked about at length. The first was Ray. The story he wanted to write about his experience in Vietnam was so twisted that it bears no resemblance to the story in the play. His experiences are lost and he feels happy at his success but also a bit disappointed with what has become of the book. He seems to regret having been so successful.

Eleanor struck us as the only person in the book who was happy with her life. She wasn’t looking for her next unhappy love affair and she wasn’t trying to be at a different stage in her life. Everyone else wanted to be older or younger, in love or out of it, but Eleanor was happy.

There were some themes in the book we hoped would be flushed out a bit more. The monkey theme was obvious but seemed unfinished. With how much Darwinism and evolution were brought up, we thought they’d play a bigger role in the book and were a bit let down when they didn’t.

I left with a ‘lighter’ impression of this book than when I’d finished it. I love being able to flesh out the book with the other readers in my group! We have one more meeting before our summer break and I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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