by Francine Proses >Harper Collins> $25
Prose is a novelist of manners, a lampooner of lifestyles.
As such, she targets not so much characters as contemporary
mores and situations. In Blue Angel, the target would
appear to be hard to miss: political correctness and
sexual harassment on campus. A middle-aged male writing
professor develops an infatuation for a punkish pupil
whose own emerging manuscript, a brilliant coming-of-age
story, has triggered both envy and desire. These lead
where they always do, to sex and the undoing of a man.
depiction of human beings are broad to the point of
caricature, but the real characters here are the fashions
and fetishes of our time: the fennel gardens, Doc Martens,
antidepressants, deconstructors, and ex-Weathermen bookstore-owners.
We recognize them as mockable friends, bearers of our
cultural IQ. Blue Angel is a comfort novel. Unfortunately,
the comforts seem slightly stale and the barbs predictable--despite
a witty remark about a parlor party in search of a manservant,
an Austenesque encounter between a Rolex and a Casio,
and a deeply satisfying pun involving a shell. Inklings
of conspiracy reveal Prose's savvy as a plot constructor,
but these stirrings remain unconsummated, as does the
student's novel, giving this reader a small fit of liber
interruptus. Perhaps that is Prose's intent, but a comedy
of manners succeeds only by resolving that which is
maddeningly, if hilariously, unresolvable in life. Yet
Prose well understands how lust comes unbidden to a
man who no longer knows what to do with it and thus
does exactly the wrong, indeed the fateful, thing. Such
a man deserves closure. Ditto the schemers who masquerade
as damsels in distress. A real comfort novel would give
them all their just desserts.