Monday, February 08, 2016

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Julia Claiborne Johnson introduces an unusual cast of characters in her debut novel, Be Frank with Me. It's a group so odd that they could only survive in the monied world of Hollywood. But, their eccentricities are the reasons for their charm.

When Mr. Vargas, Alice Whitley's boss at the publishing company, asks her to assist one of the authors, she has no idea what it would entail. M.M. Banning is a literary recluse, a woman whose debut novel, Pitched, was a literary sensation. She was only nineteen when she wrote the book that went on to win the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and an award-winning movie. She married and divorced the gorgeous actor who starred in Pitched. And, she never published another word.

Now, thirty years later, M.M. Banning is in desperate need of money, swindled of everything by her financial advisor. So, she needs to write another book, and Alice heads to LA to ensure she'll turn in the manuscript. But, upon arrival, she meets Mimi's son, Frank, a fourth grader who lives in his own world, dresses like Noel Coward, is a devotee of film, can reel off historical and film facts, but cannot survive in fourth grade. There are only two rules in the Banning household. No touching Frank's things. No touching Frank.

Alice, a take-charge person who made her own way in the world, has a difficult time adjusting to the Banning household. But, she grows to love Frank, fears for his safety and his future, and does everything she can to smooth his way. But, as accidents happen, and trips to the hospital become common, Alice isn't so sure that anyone can survive the household and Frank. With all her time devoted to him, and Mimi's insistence on privacy, she has no idea whether the promised book is moving along. Alice has a lot of questions. What is Mimi writing? Who is the mysterious Xander who Frank idolizes? Could he possibly be the boy's father?

Frank is the most charming character in Johnson's debut. The reader is always wondering what outfit he'll wear next or where his next adventure will take him. Although I found myself wondering if he was a savant, Mr. Vargas actually has the last word on the subject. "He's an odd duck, but brilliant children often are. It may take him a while, but someday he'll figure out how to live in the world of ordinary mortals."

Frank is the linchpin for the entire story. All of the action happens because of his actions in this novel in which, actually, very little happens, but much is revealed. Be Frank with Me is a leisurely paced story of a boy and the household that revolves around him. It's the kind of story that leaves the reader wondering. Is the book every published? Does it succeed? What happens to Frank in the real world? Johnson leaves the reader with as many questions as answers in a book that offers just a year in one unusual family's life as seen through the eyes of an outsider.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. William Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062413710 (hardcover), 304p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent a copy of the book to participate in the TLC Book Tour.


Beth Hoffman said...

I'm a big fan of eccentric characters, and this book is on my list. Wishing you a wonderful day, Lesa!

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Frank sounds like quite an interesting character!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.