Mister Monkey

Mister Monkey: A Novel

Francine Prose writes a quality tale with several layers of weirdness, all swirling around the children’s book turned off-off-off-off Broadway musical, Mister Monkey. Each chapter holds the hand of the next, swinging from one character’s vine to the next. Margot takes the first chapter, the actor portraying the lawyer who defends Mister Monkey from ridiculous pickpocketing charges. She receives a mysterious unsigned envelope with lines from Chekhov to Gorky, that we later find out was written by Roger, the director, intending to give to Lakshmi, the costume designer. We swing into the next chapter and go deep on Adam, the young kid playing the actual monkey on stage, closely managed by his hovering mother Giselle who also home-schools him. Adam’s main problem is coming to grips with his raging hormones that make him in love (& engorged) with Margot.

The third chapter is one of the more interesting, as Prose dips into the character of the grandfather who was in the audience asked loudly by his young grandson if he was interested in the play, during a long silent pause. The grandfather is a retired museum curator whose wife has died and whose only joy comes from excursions with his grandson. Chapter 4 goes off the rails a bit, necessarily, as it follows the grandson, Edward, whose kindergarten breaks up after a fight between Edward’s dad and the director, and who finds himself starting public kindergarten in Brooklyn three disastrous weeks after everyone else, and so the outcast. The next chapter is about Edward’s new kindergarten teacher, Sonya, who has gotten in trouble when the topic of evolution came up during Edward’s show and tell of the Mister Monkey play program. She’s a frazzled Teach for America product who depends too much on sleeping pills to get through the night, and who has forgotten she has a date that night, but shows up on time looking very frumpy and school-teacher-y. The date doesn’t go well, and the wine plus food starts to make her feel nauseous so she heads to the bathroom where she finds her phone buzzing from texts her date is drunkenly sending to her instead of his friend, rating her a 4 out of 10.

Chapter 6 picks up the story of the man who was sitting beside Sonya and her terrible date, who happens to be Ray, the guy who wrote the original Mister Monkey book. He’s in a limo, on his way to pick up his girlfriend, Lauren, who’s half his age. We get a different perspective on the horrible Sonya data from their table. Ray, as is his usual custom, slides tickets to the Mister Monkey play, to his waiter Mario, whose story we pick up in the next chapter. Mario goes to confession before hitting up the play, and further elucidates on the terrible Sonya date. Then he hits up the show and falls in love with Margot. Confusion ensues because Mario is also a Chekov lover and Margot will eventually think that he’s the one who gave her the envelope. But first he follows Margot after the play is over, has dinner across the restaurant from her, and plots ways to approach her. Eventually he goes to the subway and spots Lakshmi, the costume designer, who’s wearing her police costume from the play on the subway. Next chapter is Lakshmi’s, which is boring, and which barely connects to the next, about Eleanor the actor who plays the bitch who in real life is a nurse. Eleanor tries to convince Adam to tone down his antics on stage and then heads to work, where she encounters the grandfather from chapter 3. Then there’s a weird Mister Monkey as God chapter, thankfully short, before we end with Roger the director, where we discover he’s the one who wrote the note for Margot.