Classic iconoclast 


Francine Prose
Butler University
Wednesday, Nov. 8

Francine Prose seems possessed of an intentional love/hate relationship with the world and the world of writing in which she’s an exceptionally active player. The prolific writer is well-known for her deeply troubled protagonists, defending, as Richard Price suggests, “the all-too-human: the weak-willed, the inconsistent, the hungry-hearted.” Prose is rarer yet in her discovery that few of them can do more than acknowledge the permanence of their condition.

If her characters demonstrate a certain dumb courage in the face of their realizations, Prose knows who to blame for their situations: all of us! Her body of work catalogs the ideas and institutions that, in their attempts to provide solid footing for our lives, instead trip us up with inadequate explanations of life. From religion to pop-culture to feminist group hugs, Prose’s targets make her, as one critic called her, “an equal opportunity offender.”

Her best-known novel, Blue Angel (2000), solidified her reputation as one of America’s “great cultural satirists” as she took on the campus environments supposed to promote the values of civility of community and liberality of thought. Russell Banks said “Blue Angel is a smart-bomb attack on academic hypocrisy and cant and Prose ... is as politically incorrect on the subject of sex as Catullus and twice as funny.”

Prose’s latest bunch of do-gooders/do-baders surfaces in A Changed Man (2005). The novel questions the nature of human rights philanthropy as it tells the story of young neo-Nazi-in-reform Vincent Nolan who becomes a media darling through his work with a respected but tired Jewish humanitarian. Prose describes the organization’s fund-raiser Bonnie who has care of (and crush on) Vincent at his big coming out event: “Watching Bonnie is like watching a slalom champ who knows exactly when to turn, when to coast, when to switch direction. A special hug for everyone with a purse or checkbook. ... Vincent helps himself to a postage stamp of rare roast beef on a cracker, and then, with a longing look at the vodka, picks up a glass of white wine. For support he fingers the Vicodin in the fold of his pocket.”

Prose’s Reading Like a Writer aims her iconoclastic perspective at the common knowledge of the literati. She suggests that we’re too often “taught to read as if literature were some kind of ethics class or civics class.” Instead reading should be a joy akin to ”viewing [a master painting] from not only far away but also up close in order to see the brush strokes.”

The wonderfully contentious Francine Prose will appear Wednesday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., reading in Butler University’s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series, in the Robertson Hall Johnson Room. The event is free. Call 317-940-9861 for further information.


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