Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel (Harper Collins, 2000) is an interesting satire of undergraduate creative writing programs. It just happens to be set in Vermont. It just happens to center around a middle-aged male character named “Swenson” who just happens to be a somewhat sympathetic washed up novelist and professor. He just happens to end up in disgrace with everyone in his life and just happens to be grateful for the new life opportunity his disgrace brings him. Not so believable, at least not as compared to J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (Viking, 2000), which takes a larger, darker walk into total debasement and self-destruction.
Not that the two books can fairly be compared. While Prose’s novel is more satirical than Disgrace, it fails to make the same emotional connectivity, something I crave in any writing even if part of authorial intent. The protagonists in both novels have strained relationships with their daughters though Coetzee more succesfully carries that relationship into the meat of his larger plot which truly earns the book’s title.
Different authors, different continents, different outcomes. Perhaps the American reader prefers the melodrama of suburban soap operas to serious personal and cultural trauma. Perhaps Americans need a larger world-view, one that takes them out of sleepy college towns and onto the farms of another continent where the shockingly true aspects of human nature are more than sound bites on CNN.
Please feel free to leave your comments on either/both novels. I would appreciate your point of view.l