Blue Angel

Francine Prose, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (314p) ISBN 978-0-06-019541-0
Trust the iconoclastic Prose to turn conventional received wisdom on such subjects as predatory professors, innocent female students and the necessity for a degree of political correctness on campus on their silly heads. In this astutely observed, often laugh-aloud funny and sometimes touching academic comedy, she proves more skeptic than cynic, with an affection for her central character that is surprisingly warm. He is Ted Swenson, a happily married and reasonably content novelist who teaches creative writing at a much less than Ivy League college in darkest Vermont. Stuck on his own latest book, he is nevertheless charmed and intrigued by the writing skills of the unlikely, ungainly and punky Angela Argo. (Prose takes the considerable risk of offering chunks of Angela's work, and the reader can see in it what poor Ted does.) Out of the best intentions--and an only half-acknowledged but not compelling concupiscent itch--he encourages the girl, who is soon hanging on his every word of praise and hinting that if only Ted's editor could see her work... One moment of lustful madness that is not even consummated (a broken tooth intervenes), a disinclination of Ted's editor to see Angela's novel-in-progress and Ted's goose is cooked. Suddenly, every tiny hint of lechery or unfairness toward his students, an outburst at an unbearable dinner party, a kindly gesture are all evidence against him, dragged out in a climactic academic hearing that is at once farcical and horribly realistic. A slightly indeterminate ending--for where does poor Ted, sans wife and job, go from here?--is the only minor blemish on a peerlessly accomplished performance, at once tinglingly contemporary and timelessly funny. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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