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MORE REVIEWS: A Room At A Time * Pilgrimage

Blue Angel
by Francine Proses >Harper Collins> $25

Francine 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.

Prose's 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.
--Sara Miller