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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Mister Monkey

Mister Monkey is a gem of  a novel, full of humor and pathos, but what I found most interesting was the structure. It's not really a book of interconnected stories, but each chapter follows one character in a kind of "create-your-own-adventure" tale, all centered around a third-rate production of a children's theater production of the title.

In a small theater in the shadow of the High Line in New York, a production of Mister Monkey, the Musical, is running. It is a professional production, but just barely, We are introduced to the goings on through an actress, Margot, who wants to be a star but is now in her forties. Yale-trained, "she has changed from a girl showing the world what it is like to love someone who will never love you into a woman having a daily shit fit because of the ridiculous costume some sadistic half-mad children’s theater director is making her wear."

During the production, Margot will get humped by the boy playing the title character: "Margot has been molested by a boy in a monkey suit! And she kept on acting right through it. Somehow she stayed in character. How professional is that? Or is she just another female victim, putting up with anything that any male of any age thinks he can get away with?"

The next chapter will focus on the boy, Adam, who is being raised and home-schooled by a single stage mother: "His mom gave him an A plus. What could be more pathetic than being graded by your mother on an essay that (a) is totally made-up and (b) you wrote in twenty minutes, late, in your bedroom, while watching porn on your computer?"

The story then follows a grandfather and his grandson, who watched the show, and then to boy's teacher, who goes on a disastrous date, and then to the author of the original book, who is now rich, and then to the waiter who gets free tickets to the show, who feels an attraction to Margot. I'm not sure I've ever read a book like this before. Just imagine that you were in a city and decided to follow one person, and then that person meets another person, and you follow that new person, and so on? There are coincidences that strain credulity--at one point someone says New York City is a small town, which is not true mathematically but perhaps it is spiritually.

At the heart of this novel is a sense that no matter woebegone this musical is, it is meaningful to those who perform in it and those who watch it. Prose writes, simply but truly: "Art is art, theater is magic, no matter how humble the venue."

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