Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Gone Hollywood: "Be Frank With Me" by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Sometimes you just fall in love with a character when you read a book. And you will do just that with Frank, the little boy referenced in the title of this charming debut novel.  It's the kind of book that's so good you don't want it to end.
Alice Whitley works at a NY publishing house as an assistant to editor Isaac Vargas, who, back in the 70's had discovered a manuscript by a young woman that became a world-wide and continuously in print best seller. Think "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Catcher in the Rye". The book "The Pitcher" was that huge and had been made into a movie, as well.
The author of that best-seller never wrote another word and became a kind of recluse living in California with a wall around her compound to keep her fans at bay. After making some bad investments and losing a lot of her savings, M.M. (or Mimi) Banning realizes she's got to produce another book and contacts Mr. Vargas. She also requests he send her an assistant. Mr. Vargas decides Alice is the girl for the job.
 What Alice finds waiting for her is not, as she thought, the transcribing of the cranky Ms. Banning's manuscript as she writes it... but rather to be the caretaker of her 9 year old son, Frank.
To say Frank is on a spectrum doesn't do him justice. He's on his own spectrum. One that includes a very full and extensive knowledge of golden age Hollywood movies and every bit of dialogue or trivia that goes along with them.
Plus, he has a sense of style to go along with the leading men he admires and a huge wardrobe of suits and costumes for any role he feels like inhabiting on any particular day. He also has issues which Alice must learn to navigate while also keeping tabs on his mother, typing away behind closed doors, and keeping notes for her boss in case he needs any information on how she's doing.

The Recommender won't spoil the pleasure of this engaging story by giving away too much about the trials and triumphs of Alice and Frank. You'll want to discover them for yourself. And Ms. Johnson deserves some kind of special award for giving us Frank and Alice and the rest of the characters that inhabit her endearing world.


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