Blue Angel
  • Blue Angel
  • Blue Angel

Blue Angel

3.9 17
by Francine Prose

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It has been years since Swenson, a professor in a New England creative writing program, has published a novel. It's been even longer since any of his students have shown promise. Enter Angela Argo, a pierced, tattooed student with a rare talent for writing. Angela is just the thing Swenson needs. And, better yet, she wants his help. But, as we all know, the road to

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It has been years since Swenson, a professor in a New England creative writing program, has published a novel. It's been even longer since any of his students have shown promise. Enter Angela Argo, a pierced, tattooed student with a rare talent for writing. Angela is just the thing Swenson needs. And, better yet, she wants his help. But, as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. . . .

Deliciously risqué, Blue Angel is a withering take on today's academic mores and a scathing tale that vividly shows what can happen when academic politics collides with political correctness.

Editorial Reviews
A Review of Blue Angel

Francine Prose's new novel, Blue Angel, is an amiably vicious skewering of the grim reality of teaching undergraduates, circa 1999, and the kind of dangerous place crummy colleges are for anyone who stops to think about anything. Slyly, Prose invites you to believe you already know this story: the "aging professor makes a fool of himself with a brilliant young female student and is ruined while she goes on to triumph" story, a familiarity which the title underscores (referring, as it does, to the von Sternberg movie, which has such a plot). However, Prose infuses the book with the kind of intelligence that makes readers of her incendiary Harper's essays mutter, "I wish I'd said that" over and over. The book makes all kinds of salient, of-the-moment points about publishing (the way a writer is never more sexy and worthy of a bigger advance than when she's never published a book) and gender (women rule academia now, and everyone pretends they don't, which makes them rule it more) and anything else Prose's gaze touches.

Mark Winegardner

Mark Winegardner is a professor in the creative writing program at Florida State University and the author of four books, including the novel The Veracruz Blues.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.77(d)

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Chapter One

Swenson waits for his students to complete their private rituals, adjusting zippers and caps, arranging the pens and notebooks so painstakingly chosen to express their tender young selves, the fidgety ballets that signal their weekly submission and reaffirm the social compact to be stuck in this room for an hour without real food or TV. He glances around the seminar table, counts nine; good, everyone's here, then riffles through the manuscript they're scheduled to discuss, pauses, and says, "Is it my imagination, or have we been seeing an awful lot of stories about humans having sex with animals?"

The students stare at him, appalled. He can't believe he said that. His pathetic stab at humor sounded precisely like what it was: a question he'd dreamed up and rehearsed as he walked across North Quad, past the gothic graystone cloisters, the Founders Chapel, the lovely two-hundred-year-old maples just starting to drop the orange leaves that lie so thickly on the cover of the Euston College viewbook. He'd hardly noticed his surroundings, so blindly focused was he on the imminent challenge of leading a class discussion of a student story in which a teenager, drunk and frustrated after a bad date with his girlfriend, rapes an uncooked chicken by the light of the family fridge.

How is Swenson supposed to begin? What he really wants to ask is: Was this story written expressly to torment me? What little sadist thought it would be fun to watch me tackle the technical flaws of a story that spends two pages describing how the boy cracks the chicken's rib cage to better fit the slippery visceral cavity around his throbbing hard-on? But Danny Liebman,whose story it is, isn't out to torture Swenson. He'd just wanted something interesting for his hero to do.

Slouched over, or sliding under, the seminar table, the students gaze at Swenson, their eyes as opaque and lidded as the eyes of the chicken whose plucked head the hero turns to face him during their late-night kitchen romance. But chickens in suburban refrigerators are generally headless. Swenson makes a mental note to mention this detail later.

"I don't get it," says Carlos Ostapcek. "What other stories about animals?" Carlos always starts off. Ex-navy, ex-reform school, he's the alpha male, the only student who's ever been anywhere except inside a classroom. As it happens, he's the only male student, not counting Danny.

What stories is Swenson talking about? He suddenly can't recall. Maybe it was some other year, another class completely. He's been having too many moments like this: a door slams shut behind him and his mind disappears. is this early Alzheimer's? He's only fortyseven. Only forty-seven? What happened in the heartbeat since he was his students' age?

Maybe his problem's the muggy heat, bizarre for late September, El Niño dumping a freak monsoon all over northern Vermont. His classroom-high in the college bell tower-is the hottest spot on campus. And this past summer, workmen painted the windows shut. Swenson has complained to Buildings and Grounds, but they're too busy fixing sidewalk holes that could result in lawsuits.

"Is something wrong, Professor Swenson?" Claris Williams inclines her handsome head, done this week in bright rows of coiled dyed-orange snails. Everyone, including Swenson, is a little in love with, and scared of, Claris, possibly because she combines such intelligent sweetness with the glacial beauty of an African princess turned supermodel.

"Why do you ask?" says Swenson.

"You groaned," Claris says. "Twice."

"Nothing's wrong." Swenson's groaning in front of his class. Doesn't that prove nothing's wrong? "And if you call me Professor again, I'll fail you for the semester."

Claris stiffens. Relax! It's only a joke! Euston students call teachers by their first names, that's what Euston parents pay twenty-eight thousand a year for. But some kids can't make themselves say Ted, the scholarship students like Carlos (who does an end run around it by calling him Coach), the Vermont farm kids like Jonelle, the black students like Claris and Makeesha, the ones least likely to be charmed by his jokey threats. Euston hardly has any students like that, but this fan, for some reason, they're all in Swenson's class.

Last week they discussed Claris's story about a girl who accompanies her mother on a job cleaning a rich woman's house, an eerily convincing piece that moved from hilarity to horror as it chronicled the havoc wreaked by the maid stumbling through the rooms, chugging Thunderbird wine, until the horrified child watches her tumble downstairs.

The students were speechless with embarrassment. They all assumed, as did Swenson, that Claris's story was maybe not literal truth, but painfully close to the facts. At last, Makeesha Davis, the only other black student, said she was sick of stories in which sisters were always messed up on dope or drunk or selling their booty or dead.

Swenson argued for Claris. He'd dragged in Chekhov to tell the class that the writer need not paint a picture of an ideal world, but only describe the actual world, without sermons, without judgment. As if his students give a shit about some dead Russian that Swenson ritually exhumes to support his loser opinions. And yet just mentioning Chekhov made Swenson feel less alone, as if he were being watched over by a saint who wouldn't judge him for the criminal fraud of pretending that these kids could be taught what Swenson's pretending to teach them. Chekhov would see into his heart and know that he sincerely wished he could give his students what they want: talent, fame, money, a job.

After the workshop on her story, Claris stayed to talk. Swenson had groped for some tactful way to tell her that he knew what it...

Blue Angel. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Russell Banks
Blue Angel is a smart-bomb attack on academic hypocrisy and cant, and Francine Prose, an equal-opportunity offender, is as politically incorrect on the subject of sex as Catullus and twice as funny. What a deep relief it is, in these dumbed-down Late Empire days, to read a world class satirist who's also a world class story-teller.

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Blue Angel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Francine Prose knows how to write a male voice convincingly. I enjoyed the somewhat self-deprecating tone of the novel. While I believe the end was disappointing and way too obvious -- especially from a woman who has been irritatingly vocal about her distaste for commercial women's fiction -- it is still worth the read. Getting to the surprisingly mediocre end is worth the trip.
pnfuab More than 1 year ago
BLUE ANGEL Francine Prose Literary fiction; National Book Award finalist. Despite raves from some critics, BLUE ANGEL, a satire on academic political correctness, writers, and wanna-be writers/students in an English Department at a second-rate New England college, left me with no interest in reading more from this author. The plot revolves around married middle-aged Ted Swenson, who many years earlier published a critically successful novel but has had writer’s block for months. Angela, pierced and tattooed, is one of his creative writing students who, to his surprise, does have real writing talent. She pursues Ted relentlessly and he becomes infatuated with her, ultimately leading to a sexual harassment charge. Especially unsatisfying was the ending, which was anticlimactic and flat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The protagonist of Francine Prose's novel, Blue Angel, Ted Swenson, is a happily-married, tenured fiction-writing professor at small, exclusive Euston College in rural Vermont. Swenson, however, has reached a critical point in his life. Suffering from an extreme case of writer's block, he feels the novels that made him famous are now behind him as he suffers through writing workshops such as the one that open this novel. Of course, Swenson's students can't write. Except for one, the tattooed, multiple-pierced, bad girl, Angela Argo. Angela, who has a novel-in-progress, is definitely trouble and Swenson knows it. Yet, predictably, he cannot help himself. Although Blue Angel is satire, it is satire that misses the mark. Prose seems to have the hard-heartedness necessary to bring her characters to a fitting end, unlike Jane Smiley in Moo, but rather than concentrate on her story, Prose seems far too intent on sending us a feminist message about the perils of student-teacher relationships. This book really seems reminiscent of the early nineties when a new crop of pro-pleasure feminists, such as Katie Roiphe, decried the moralizing forces at work on the college campuses of the United States. Another problem with Blue Angel is that one can spot the ending from the very first page. To Prose's credit the specifics come as something of a surprise, but the characters, although funny and memorable, act in ways that are certainly not credible. From the humorless women's studies professor, Lauren, to the Dimmsdale-like college dean, Bentham, to Swenson's antagonist, herself, Angela, most of the characters seem to be representative rather than realistic. Although Prose is not at her best when attempting to twist and turn the plot, she does excel at portraying the poetry inherent in everyday existence. Some of this novel's best, and most wonderfully-written scenes, revolve around Swenson and his faithful wife, Sherrie. The fact that many things in Blue Angel tend to elude all logical explanation doesn't detract at all from the book's positives. After all, doesn't real life, more than anything else, elude any attempt to explain it away with logic? The writing in Blue Angel is good. In fact, it would have been excellent had this book been anything else but what it is meant to be. I, myself, just didn't find it biting and caustic enough to be good satire. Blue Angel is a good book and it is highly entertaining. But if it's campus satire you're looking for, I would definitely recommend Philip Roth's wonderful The Human Stain instead. That is satire of the highest order. As for Prose, she is a very good writer, but I would choose one of her other books rather than Blue Angel. It is definitely not her best.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this novel and read through it quickly, but agreed with an earlier reveiwer's comments that the finish was disappointing. It was, to me, as if the story was left unfinished. I would like to have learned who this Angela Argo person really is, then realized that was exactly what our main character, Swenson would have liked to know. However, like any long trip to a final destination, it was the ride along the way that was most memorable. I particularly enjoyed the way the author capably interjected Swenson's constantly changing and conflicting thoughts and feelings into every comment made and every look he received--how, his not thinking of Angela for a period of time convinced him he was not obsessed with her after all, then how he becomes obsessed all over again. The constant nuances and self doubts seemed very true to life. I'll be looking for more from this author.
Mz_Tere More than 1 year ago
This book is not what you think it is...even to the last page.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel, which hooked me in its first half with a wry sense of humor, unfortunately loses satirical focus in its second. There is significant irony that the same faults the main character points out in his students' work (e.g. an easily deciphered political agenda, predictability, unbelievable characters with incredible motivation) are prevalent in Prose's novel. Also, Prose's many allusions to the works of Bronte, Dostoevsky and Nabokov serve to remind the reader exactly how derivative Blue Angel is, rather than providing any real contrasts. Though at times amusing, the final chapters are tedious and provide no new insight. Part Oleanna, part Lolita, and ultimately annoying.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A painfully realistic depiction of modern day college students and college politics, presented with biting sarcasm on every page. You won't want to have anything to do with colleges after reading this. Francine Prose is quite an author, in her witty sarcastic style, good background research, realism, and the fact she doesn't take sides. True to life, everybody in the book is fickle and despicable when put under pressure, and the only person who seems to have any morals is the hapless professor who would ordinarily be considered society's stereotypical sex criminal. The age of the temptress is not specified, but given that it's a college and she's described as a minor, it's probably 17. My main complaints about the book are that the author's references to bestiality to grab the reader's attention are a bit contrived, and every incident seems to be negative, which means there were no high points to cherish anywhere. P.S.: If you want an uncensored version of the cover photo, it's in '1000 Nudes,' available at Barnes & Noble.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In an era of correctness, vividly developed characters make choices. Spider traps fly. Timeless story in a familiar place. Higher education is lowered. Teachers learn. Students teach. Writers write with questionable motives. What is art? Still digesting this chaotic gem. Thank You, Francine.
Guest More than 1 year ago
No kidding, I read a lot of fiction, but this novel definitely grabbed my interest and kept it!!! I didn't get much sleep while I was finishing it, but the storyline follows a professor and a talented student collaborating on the student's novel. There is a constant flirtation between the two of them, and you may never be able to put it down once you're started asking yourself... 'Is he going to....', 'Is she trying to...', 'Will they...' The plot twists and turns until you don't know exactly what intentions anyone has. Even the end leaves you wondering because the characters are so realistic. Maybe someone you know!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Blue Angel is my first Francine Prose novel, but not my last. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A smart written satire that makes a serious indictment against hypocrisy. I found this book to be very unique and a true pleasure to read.