Blue Angel, by Francine Prose
The entire time I was reading Francine Prose’s brilliant novel, Blue Angel, I had one constant emotion: fear. I even woke up in the middle of the night feeling it–fear, dread, anxiety. With each page I read, I said in my mind, “Don’t do it, Swenson! Stop! Can’t you see what she is? Listen to Magda! Think of Sherrie!”
Oh man, oh man! Poor damn, Swenson. Poor Sherrie. And, really, poor Angela, because will it be worth it to her to have that book published after she has committed so many writerly sins? She has lied, cheated, stolen, plagiarised. God, but does her desperation ring true if you have spent any time around writers–you have likely met one of these people who will do anything to have his/her work published and there you will see one like Angela. I have met an Angela–more than one, actually, which is chilling in itself.
But who is at fault here? Who’s to blame in this story of a creative writing teacher who fucks (or almost fucks. The act is aborted when his tooth cracks) his star pupil? If you read about this case in the newspaper or heard about it on the news, it would likely seem black and white–an abuse of power, a troubled young woman taken advantage of.
But who seduced whom? Who, indeed, ochestrated the whole event from the beginning to the end? And who, potentially, had a history of seducing her teachers? Was there truly any sexual harrassment or was Angela simply savvy enough to engineer a seduction which she knew would ignite the passions of the PC/sexual harrassment police on her campus?
It seems obvious that this is what Swenson would have us believe–but then the story is told from his (at times frenzied, unbalanced, checked-out) perspective. And well it should be since he never really gets his say at the trial. Rather, the case is decided before it even begins.
In the end, just as in life, nothing is really clear:
But how strangely lighthearted he feels, what a relief it is to admit, even just for one moment, how much he will never know.
Oh, but this book is funny and deeply, darkly sad. Really, it’s just brilliant and every writer and observer of human nature and every person who casts judgment (which is every person) should read this book.