Jill's take on Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
There are a couple of bookstores that I just love in LA and have to stop every time we are in town - Book Soup and Diesel. This time around we popped in to the Diesel location in Brentwood while hanging out with a dear friend. I was determined to find a book and was open to suggestions.
There was a local author on hand who was ostensibly selling his book (he had given a reading earlier in the morning) but he suggested I give Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson a try. I was so overstimulated by all that was going on that I could barely focus on my sample reading while on site. So, I took a chance and convinced Zac we should purchase this book. And I'm glad I did.
Be Frank With Me could easily fall into the category of "stories about peculiar children". This is true, but it is also about peculiar adults and adults who don't know how to handle said peculiar child. It's also about adults who don't seem to want any responsibility but find themselves compelled to care for this particular child.
The peculiar child in question is Frank; the super smart, super natty son of a blockbuster one hit wonder reclusive author. Frank's mother (Mimi) had huge success with her debut novel and has not published anything since. Mimi's publisher gives Mimi an advance and an assistant to help her write her next big novel. What ensues is the assistant's story of her life integrating with this mother-son duo and the "handyman" piano player that drifts in and out of their lives.
I enjoyed this book a lot, though I did find myself thinking that the portrayal of Frank was maybe a bit heavy handed. Maybe that's jaded. I did think this was a rather original combination of events that happen in the story and found the plot, scene and character descriptions quite engrossing. I had a very visual image of everything that happened in the book and I always appreciate an author that can paint a scene and characters well enough for me to give them physicality in my mind.
Be Frank With Me probably isn't going to change your life but it was a good story and a joy to read.
Zac's take on Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
I recently finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is quite a different book than Be Frank With Me.
So different that I half expected to hate the lightness of this novel about a reclusive writer living in Bel Aire and her autistic and eccentric son, Frank. But I didn't hate it. I liked it! It was entertaining and fast paced and an easy read.
For as hateful as the reclusive writer was, and as annoying as the little boy was, they all managed to have a certain level of charm to them, and it kept the novel going.
Frank is by most accounts fairly autistic. But this is never explicitly stated in the novel. Instead the author relied on common stereotypes portrayed over and over again in the media - there wasn't much nuance to this part of the character. His odd behavior and manner of dress aside, there was some genuine character growth throughout the novel, and it was nice to see.
What I did really enjoy is that the novel references many classic Hollywood films, and Frank himself is a walking encyclopedia of facts and trivia about these movies and about Los Angeles in general. This novel isn't going to rock any boats and it really doesn't have much to say that we don't already know - that family is difficult and that being human is difficult.