Maybe I need to start a category here for disappointments in reading; they seem to be pouring in lately. Having read Francine Prose’s nonfiction writings here and there, and liking her way with words, I thought I was in for a treat when I found a used copy of Blue Angel. The skinny: a creative writing program professor (bells going off! a Condalmo favored subject!), stalled on his novel after previous success, develops a crush on a student with exceptional talent. Look at this, via Powell’s:
The story inspires me to imagine Michael Chabon, Denis Johnson, Francine Prose, and Richard Russo sitting in a chateau one summer in the mid-’90s, the night sky split with relentless lightning, as they read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Finally Chabon — with his fondness for comic books and genre writing, it must have been Chabon — rises to his feet and proposes that each write an academic satire about a creative writing instructor who falls in love or flirts with a student. Johnson avoided the satire angle (and made his protagonist a history professor) while Prose chose to make the satire more venomous than funny (and paced her novel like a first-rate thriller), but Chabon and Russo managed to keep their tales brisk and hilarious. Whether or not this creation scenario actually played out, these writers have contributed a quartet of superb novels built around similar elements and themes — each distinctly different and compelling in its own right. My personal favorite remains Russo’s Straight Man, but I’ve been unable to forget Chabon’s Wonder Boys, Prose’s Blue Angel, or Johnson’s The Name of the World. Perhaps all four books are best read together, on a single weekend, preferably with the crackle of thunder outside… Recommended by Bolton, Powells.com
Okay, well, I enjoyed Straight Man well enough; I very much enjoyed Wonder Boys – the movie; I found the book lacking. I haven’t read The Name of the World. I suspect part of my ongoing disappointment in this subject area is fueled by the perfection of another certain book dealing with university creative writing programs. Part of the appeal of that book that some of these others are lacking is that it approaches the story in hindsight, being written after the fact, whereas books like Straight Man and Blue Angel are being presented "as it happens," so to speak. That hindsight is like a rock being thrown into deep waters; these other books are rocks skimming the surface. Nice, if you like that sort of thing. I guess I don’t. I welcome recommendations for literary fiction books on the subject(s) of creative writing programs at university.
Oh, and someone needs to strike this, from the book flap, from future editions:
Blue Angel does for creative writing programs what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle did for the meat-packing industry.
No. No, it does not.