Expertly constructed, Mister Monkey is so fresh and new it’s almost giddy, almost impudent with originality. Tender and artful, Prose’s 15th novel is a sophisticated satire, a gently spiritual celebration of life, a dark and thoroughly grim depiction of despair, a screwball comedy, a screwball tragedy ... As cues and miscues (onstage and off) propel the story forward, Prose deftly passes the narrative perspective from one character to the next ... It’s an intricate technical accomplishment, even more remarkable because it feels effortless ... Sympathy, sharp and painful as a dart, is one of Prose’s most devastating and beautiful weapons ... Chekhovian. It’s that good. It’s that funny. It’s that sad. It’s that deceptive and deep.
As each tale unfolds, Prose offers insights on New York, evolution, Chekhov, childhood, adolescence, old age, stage mothers, trophy wives, loneliness, disappointment, and love ... As Prose’s overwhelmed characters take turns documenting their hopes and shattered dreams, their scattered voices join in a shared effort that adds power and meaning to the plummeting production. In this strong, humane, and funny novel, Prose has treated us to an enthralling entertainment both on and off stage.
Fertile as the play is for drama and satire, Prose’s novel leaps out beyond the circle of theater people ... this [elderly widower] chapter — a masterful short story, really — is almost too good, in that it casts a shadow over the others, which don’t attain the same level of complexity or poignancy ... a lovely tribute to the transformative value of imagination.
...for the satirically minded Prose, a dazzling writer who’s gifted at exposing our secret shames, this inexplicably long-running disaster is the perfect premise for an invigorating examination of art and ambition as well as a fertile jumping-off point for revelations about our human fragility ... Mister Monkey takes aim at a great many targets — modern parenting and theatrical delusions among them— and hits them all with devastating wit. But what’s remarkable is Prose’s ability to flesh out her characters in a way that allows you to feel for them even as you laugh at their predicaments.
What's remarkable is how much wit and pathos Prose manages to wring from this wildly unpromising jumping-off point ... Prose's novel could be a lesson in point: Handled with imagination and élan, almost anything can be turned into compelling literature ... The novel unfolds like a well-timed relay race, passing the narrative baton from one character to the next. But despite several unpredictable turns, it feels somewhat formulaic after a few chapters; we sense the chugging effort to keep it rolling.
...[a] beautifully crafted, incisively written novel ... The premise is fun, the cast of characters interesting enough, but what elevates the novel is Prose’s ability to let us see into the heart of each character, to render each so vulnerably human, so achingly real in just a few short paragraphs ... the book is laced with a sense of impending loss countered by the hope that we can find love — real, reciprocated, enduring love — in this life.
And by its end, Prose has created something greater than the sum of those individual voices: a show and its audience, a community, a city. A goofball comedy about making bad art, about the poignancy of old age gazing at childhood, about hopes and dreams and settling and why an emergency-room nurse might race from her shift to arrive, still in scrubs, at a stage door.
Prose casts an often shrewd eye over the fine-graded delineations of the New York society her players inhabit ... When Prose hovers over the stage, detailing the various travesties of the show, she’s at her most comically astute. When she exits the theater to chronicle the dutifully unhinged lives of her characters, most of whom come freighted with unnecessarily traumatic back-stories, she trots down avenues of forced earnestness, straining for an emotional gravitas the story doesn’t need or want ... Worse, much the novel is too breezily confected, with no linguistic commitment — the loose, nearly automatic language has all the attendant cliché you’d expect.
Prose tosses in some slapstick and a few funny, though predictable, comic scenes - but some of the alleged humor is questionable. You must be deep into schadenfreude to enjoy much of it ... Some readers won't mind the alleged humor. Some will enjoy it. Others will struggle through this book ... I lost interest in this book.
On the surface, the novel makes highly entertaining theater out of the characters’ lives and the increasingly disastrous performances of the play. Underneath, the book is as serious as the characters are about their obsessive concerns: climate change, evolution and disintegration, failure and loneliness ... gripping and engaging all the way through, the characters’ miseries as moving as their fierce attachments to hope and the possibility of unexpected mercies.