The Peaceable Kingdom

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The inhabitants of Prose's peaceable kingdom are getting the surprises of their lives: a young woman on her honeymoon suddenly realizes that her ecologist husband will have to save the world without her; a child on a class trip recognizes in an Egyptian tomb the inevitable and tragic procession of her life to come; a young puppeteer works a party in the house of a wealthy family, only to be drawn into an encounter with the head of the dysfunctional household; and a disaffected girl on a trip to Paris with her ...
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The Peaceable Kingdom: Stories

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The inhabitants of Prose's peaceable kingdom are getting the surprises of their lives: a young woman on her honeymoon suddenly realizes that her ecologist husband will have to save the world without her; a child on a class trip recognizes in an Egyptian tomb the inevitable and tragic procession of her life to come; a young puppeteer works a party in the house of a wealthy family, only to be drawn into an encounter with the head of the dysfunctional household; and a disaffected girl on a trip to Paris with her father and his mistress is chased by the boy of her dreams. Nothing is certain in this world where weddings and birthday parties go unpredictably awry, strangers blurt out disturbing confessions, and even the family pets reveal themselves to be agents of discord and disruption.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prose Primitive People; Household Saints is a highly talented writer who in this collection of stories--most of them previously published in little magazines--seems to be seeking a subject. They are mostly about young, fairly sophisticated people in a vaguely artistic milieu who are profoundly at odds with each other and their world. Prose has a marvelous ear for the inanities of contemporary dialogue, and is continuously observant; there is never a time when she bores the reader or causes impatience, and she is often very funny. But readers will likely come away with little more than cool admiration for her intelligence and her rueful insights. In "Amazing,'' for instance, a young puppeteer does his work at a party in the house of a wealthy and clearly dysfunctional family, only to be drawn into an odd and not very convincing encounter with the father of the household; in "Potato World,'' a bright, disaffected girl on a trip to Paris with her father and his mistress is chased there by her hapless boyfriend, with disastrous results; "Rubber Life'' is a sort of ghost story about a librarian and her best customer that ends, as so many of these stories do, with a symbolist flourish that is effective in itself but seems unrelated to what has gone before. Read one at a time these stories would probably seem more hip and entertaining than they do as a collection, where their similarities and frequent glibness are more apparent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805059397
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Francine Prose

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.


When it comes to an author as eclectic as Francine Prose, it's difficult to find the unifying thread in her work. But, if one were to examine her entire oeuvre—from novels and short stories to essays and criticism—a love of reading would seem to be the animating force. That may not seem extraordinary, especially for a writer, but Prose is uncommonly passionate about the link between reading and writing. "I've always read," she confessed in a 1998 interview with Atlantic Unbound. "I started when I was four years old and just didn't stop…The only reason I wanted to be a writer was because I was such an avid reader." (In 2006, she produced an entire book on the subject—a nuts-and-bolts primer entitled Reading Like a Writer, in which she uses excerpts from classic and contemporary literature to illustrate her personal notions of literary excellence.)

If Prose is specific about the kind of writing she, herself, likes to read, she's equally voluble about what puts her off. She is particularly vexed by "obvious, tired clichés; lazy, ungrammatical writing; implausible plot turns." Unsurprisingly, all of these are notably absent in her own work. Even when she explores tried-and-true literary conventions—such as the illicit romantic relationship at the heart of her best known novel, Blue Angel—she livens them with wit and irony. She even borrowed her title from the famous Josef von Sternberg film dealing with a similar subject.

As biting and clever as she is, Prose cringes whenever her work is referred to as satire. She explained to Barnes &, "Satirical to me means one-dimensional characters…whereas, I think of myself as a novelist who happens to be funny—who's writing characters that are as rounded and artfully developed as the writers of tragic novels."

Prose's assessment of her own work is pretty accurate. Although her subject matter is often ripe for satire (religious fanaticism in Household Saints, tabloid journalism in Bigfoot Dreams, upper-class pretensions in Primitive People), etc.), she takes care to invest her characters with humanity and approaches them with respect. "I really do love my characters," she says, "but I feel that I want to take a very hard look at them. I don't find them guilty of anything I'm not guilty of myself."

Best known for her fiction, Prose has also written literary criticism for The New York Times, art criticism for The Wall Street Journal, and children's books based on Jewish folklore, all of it infused with her alchemic blend of humor, insight,and intelligence.

Good To Know

Prose rarely wastes an idea. In Blue Angel, the novel that the character Angela is writing is actually a discarded novel that Prose started before stopping because, in her own words, "it seemed so juvenile to me."

While she once had no problem slamming a book in one of her literary critiques, these days Prose has resolved to only review books that she actually likes. The ones that don't adhere to her high standards are simply returned to the senders.

Prose's novel Household Saints was adapted into an excellent film starring Tracey Ullman, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Lili Taylor in 1993.

Another novel, The Glorious Ones, was adapted into a musical.

In 2002, Prose published The Lives of the Muses, an intriguing hybrid of biography, philosophy, and gender studies that examines nine women who inspired famous artists and thinkers—from John Lennon's wife Yoko Ono to Alice Liddell, the child who enchanted Lewis Carroll.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 1, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Read an Excerpt

The Peaceable Kingdom

By Francine Prose

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Francine Prose
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060754044

Talking Dog

The dog was going to Florida. The dog knew all the best sleeping places along the side of the highway, and if my sister wanted to come along, the dog would be glad to pace himself so my sister could keep up. My sister told our family this when she came back to the dinner table from which Mother and I had watched her kneeling in the snowy garden, crouched beside the large shaggy white dog, her ear against its mouth.

My sister's chair faced the window, and when the dog first appeared in our yard, she'd said. "Oh. I know that dog," and jumped up and ran out the door. I thought she'd meant whose dog it was, not that she knew it to talk to.

"What dog?" My father slowly turned his head.

"A dog, dear," Mother said.

That year it came as a great surprise how many sad things could happen at once. At first you might think the odds are that one grief might exempt you, but that year I learned the odds are that nothing can keep you safe. So many concurrent painful events altered our sense of each one, just as a color appears to change when another color is placed beside it.

That year my father was going blind from a disease of the retina, a condition we knew a lot about because my father was a scientist and used to lecture us on it at dinner with the glittery detached fascination he'd once had for research gossip and new developments in the lab. Yet as his condition worsened he'd stopped talking about it; he could still read but had trouble with stairs and had begun to touch the furniture. Out in daylight he needed special glasses, like twin tiny antique cameras, and he ducked his head as he put them on, as if burrowing under a cloth. I was ashamed for anyone to see and ashamed of being embarrassed.

My father still consulted part-time for a lab that used dogs in experiments, and at night he worked at home with a microscope and a tape recorder. "Slide 109," he'd say. "Liver condition normal." My sister had always loved animals, but no one yet saw a connection between my father dissecting dogs and my sister talking to them.

For several weeks before that night when the white dog came through our yard, my sister lay in bed with the curtains drawn and got up only at mealtime. Mother told the high school that my sister had bronchitis. At first my sister's friends telephoned, but only one, Marcy, still called. I'd hear Mother telling Marcy that my sister was much better, being friendlier to Marcy than shed ever been before. Marcy had cracked a girl's front tooth and been sent to a special school. Each time Marcy telephoned, Mother called my sister's name and, when she didn't answer, said she must he sleeping. I believed my sister was faking it but even I'd begun to have the sickish, panicky feeling you get when someone playing dead takes too long getting up ...


Excerpted from The Peaceable Kingdom by Francine Prose Copyright © 2005 by Francine Prose. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Talking dog 3
Cauliflower heads 27
Rubber life 55
Amazing 73
Ghirlandaio 95
Amateur Voodoo 113
Potato world 129
Dog stories 149
Imaginary problems 169
The shining path 189
Hansel and Gretel 211
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