Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mister Monkey

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose, 285 pages

Back in the 1970s, a Vietnam vet wrote Mister Monkey, a children's book about an orphaned chimpanzee who comes to New York to be raised by a widower and his children. Decades later, the book has been twisted into a sad musical, with mediocre acting, garish costumes, and taped music. Prose's book comprises the stories of the people involved with or impacted by this pathetic theatrical production, from the aging actress who plays Mr. Monkey's lawyer to the hormonal kid who plays Mr. Monkey, from a grandfather whose grandson talks loudly at an inopportune time during the show to a waiter who was given free tickets by Mister Monkey's author. It's alternately hilarious, thoughtful, and absurd, but somehow always realistic.

My only complaint is that chimpanzees are not monkeys: they're apes! (This is one of my biggest pet peeves when I go to the zoo. I won't go into the full rant here, but if you really want to hear it, let me know.) This has always been my primary complaint about Curious George too, and perhaps (hopefully?) Prose is deliberately copying H.A. Rey's egregious error; there are certainly other parallels between the two primates' stories. That said, this is the first book I've read by Prose, who has dozens to her name, and I can guarantee this won't be the last of hers I pick up. (Assuming that the primate confusion doesn't continue through the rest of her books, of course.)

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