On the way to work, a young woman decides to write about Bigfoot; a shaggy dog appears in the yard and announces that it going to Florida; a creative writing teacher wonders if his students are inventing stories for the express purpose of tormenting him. Welcome to Francine Prose’s universe—a fictional world of absurd situations and sardonic humor, but also a world of intelligence, compassion, and grief.
A satirist in the tradition of Swift, Prose can be mercilessly funny in exposing the pretension and hypocrisy, and yet, she never forgets that we all have our foibles. “I really do love my characters,” she says. “I don’t find them guilty of anything that I’m not guilty of myself.”
Prose grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1968. She has written nearly twenty books, including Judah the Pious (1973), Household Saints (1981), Bigfoot Dreams (1986), Hunters & Gatherers (1996), and Blue Angel (2000), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and other magazines. Her next book, The Lives of the Muses, is due out in September 2002. She lives in New York City.
Excerpt from Blue Angel (2000)
Swenson waits for his students to complete their private rituals, adjusting zippers and caps, arranging the pens and notebooks so painstakingly chosen to express their tender young selves, the fidgety ballets that signal their weekly submission and reaffirm the social compact to be stuck in this room for an hour without real food or TV. He glances around the seminar table, counts nine; good, everyone’s here, then rifles through the manuscript they’re scheduled to discuss, pauses, and says, “Is it my imagination, or have we been seeing an awful lot of stories about humans having sex with animals?”
The students stare at him, appalled. He can’t believe he said that. His pathetic stab at humor sounded precisely like what it was: a question he’d dreamed up and rehearsed as he walked across North Quad, past the gothic graystone cloisters, the Founders Chapel, the lovely two-hundred-year-old maples just starting to drop the orange leaves that lie so thickly on the cover of the Euston College viewbook. He’d hardly noticed his surroundings, so blindly focused was he on the imminent challenge of leading a class discussion of a student story in which a teenager, drunk and frustrated after a bad date with his girlfriend, rapes an uncooked chicken by the light of the family fridge.
How is Swenson supposed to begin? What he really wants to ask is: Was this story written expressly to torment me? What little sadist thought it would be fun to watch me tackle the technical flaws of a story that spends two pages describing how the boy cracks the chicken’s rib cage to better fit the slippery visceral cavity around his throbbing hard-on? But Danny Liebman, whose story it is, isn’t out to torture Swenson. He’d just wanted something interesting for his hero to do.
Blue Angel (2000)
Guided Tours of Hell (1997)
Hunters and Gatherers (1995)
Bigfoot Dreams (1986)
Judah the Pious (1973)
The Atlantic: Interview with Prose
Reading group guide for Blue Angel