|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