Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Peaceable Kingdom

Read it now.  Get it at Indiebound or your
local bookseller.

Or, Why I Adore Francine Prose.

There's her short fiction, this blogpost's title tome (and a recent read for me) being a stellar example.  Each story packs its own emotional epiphany or slantwise crack in the chink of our human armor.  Each boasts a core character whose perspective and persona will ring utterly new yet convincingly - if quirkily - real.  And each touches upon some non-human being - in short or at core - so that the collection's through-line is neither too limiting nor too eclectic (as in "Best Short Stories by Francine Prose: 1980-2000" or some such.  A title, by the way, which doesn't exist.).  I recommend these stories highly, and urge anyone who enjoys 'the thrill of the epiphany' - however subtle or quotidian - that characterizes this genre to give the collection a try.  In fact, I'll even mail you my copy if you like.  Just promise me you'll read it and I'll put you in the running.  (Let's make it a tax-day give-away, shall we, and close entries on April 15, 2012.)

And her novels, my favorite of which features a (not so much, really) repentant skinhead trying to make amends by working for an Elie Wiesel-esque humanitarian's international NGO, then falling in love with its fundraising guru.  Is the erstwhile violent racist truly A Changed Man or not?  And has the Holocaust victim-cum-celebrity-Nobel Laureate been a tad corrupted by fame?  To Prose's credit, this darkly comic novel packs suspense and plenty of insight in all those grey areas in which real humans perpetually live.  And she's not afraid to address taboo subjects or to craft fully imperfect characters.  I admire her guts in a world that seems to demand (check out reviews of any books with less-than-admirable protagonists on Goodreads or Amazon if you doubt me) that central characters be charming, attractive, and well-meaning at all times.*

And, last but certainly not least, I commend to you Ms. Prose's non-fiction, her oughta-feature-prominently- on-every-serious-writer's/reader's-shelf volume Reading Like A Writer.  How many times have I turned its pages?  Happily, I've lost count.  If you're looking to shift your perspective on prose, there's no better work to tweak your current habits into open-eyed clarity.  And her list of recommended reading in the appendix is worth the price of the book.

Bottom line:  if you like novels, you'll like Prose; if you like short fiction, you'll double-like Prose; and if you care about writing and reading, well then, if you haven't read Prose you'll be hopping right now to your local bookseller to find yourself Reading Like A Writer at last.


* Quick non-Prose aside:  Another stellar and all too infrequently read novel on similar themes is Dreamer by Charles Johnson, about an MLK look-alike with a seemingly murderous past who becomes the famed preacher/human rights advocate's body double.

1 comment:

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Funnny, but Francine Prose isn't much on my radar. I read Blue Angel after it won/got shortlisted for whatever prize it was, but that's my only exposure to her. A Changed Man sounds fascinating and just the sort of novel that a reader who loves Severus Snape might find scope for.

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