Be Frank With Me | Julia Claiborne Johnson

When people make the comment “never judge a book by its cover” certain covers need to have an exception. Just have a look at the cover for BE FRANK WITH ME from Julia Claiborne Johnson, when the shipments arrived to send to the reviewers I nearly kept this from Kernel Deb. Just look at debonair Frank, I mean isn’t that the cutest little-man of all time that just sums up the entire book with one photo. Eccentric and fabulous all rolled into one, just like the book. BE FRANK WITH ME is out now from the fine folks at Allen and Unwin Book Publishers, you will find this one in book stores or you can purchase online from HERE. Enjoy Deb’s review……………all the best………….JK.

 

Be Frank with Me Book Cover image

 

BY DEBORAH DAY

BE FRANK WITH ME is the debut novel of Los Angeles based author Julia Claiborne Johnson. It is a quirky tale about the fictional semi-reclusive Pulitzer-winning author Mimi Banning and her eccentric son Frank. The book is a reflection of a year in their life told from their “girl Friday” Alice Whitley’s point of view. Alice; quiet, sober, boring and sane provides the perfect foil for the eccentric Banning’s, as Frank’s many amusing escapades, courtesy of his immature prefrontal cortex, provide the grist for the plot which reads like a screwball comedy of yesteryear  in which hidden manuscripts, firecrackers, and emotional meltdowns all play a part.

Mimi and Frank do not do “normal” very well. For Mimi and Frank, red-carpet stardom and school respectively, are a trial; and their oddness makes them vulnerable to society’s sharks, their peers and social expectations. As a consequence they live a semi-reclusive life, rarely interacting with mainstream society, preferring instead the company of their Julliard graduate and roving handyman, Xander Devlin. Never a good judge of character, Mimi is close to broke after being swindled out of her fortune by a crooked investment advisor, so her New York publisher and friend Isaac Vargas decides to send his dependable assistant Alice to help her navigate computers and keep the household running while she works on a much anticipated second novel, which good, bad or indifferent is likely to be a best seller.

Mimi, the daughter of a beauty queen and a field surgeon, is prickly, distant and offbeat. Accidentally famous by the age of twenty, after her first novel “Pitched” – about a brilliant baseball player who decompensates into madness – became an instant classic, Mimi has retreated into her all-glass house in Bel Air Hills, a house completely unsuitable for a celebrity obsessed with privacy. Uncomfortable with her fame, Mimi erects a stucco wall with razor wire and a security system to keep Frank safe from prying eyes, and her fans and the occasional curious photographer at bay.

 

Julia Claiborne Johnson Author image

 

Nine year old Frank has poor eye gaze and struggles to read emotions. He has difficulty relating to his peers, does not like to be touched and has an uncanny intuition unencumbered by tact. His penchant for English jazz-age style menswear, makes him stand out like a peacock in any social situations even though he prefers to retreat into solo imaginary play or the world of classic cinema. Frank’s spark and intelligence are endearing even though his attempts to engage with the wider world are equal parts frustrating and cringeworthily hilarious.

Claiborne Johnson uses Frank’s love of classic film to expand and descriptively enhance her prose. Classic film references from movies ranging from MY MAN GODFREY, WHITE HEAT, CASABLANCA, A WONDERFUL LIFE, SOME LIKE IT HOT, BRIGADOON, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and JAWS abound. The fashions, feats and foibles of William Powell, James Cagney, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Archimedes, Einstein, Andy Warhol, Jules Verne, Charles Darwin, Abe Lincoln and Basil Rathbone in his deerstalker, amongst others, rate a mention as Frank tries to explain and sometimes justify his behaviour, style and actions. In addition, Claiborne Johnson gives Frank an extensive database of random facts which he uses to highlight his commonality with luminaries such as Einstein who didn’t wear socks, or Noel Coward who was a primary school dropout.

The overall effect is that Claiborne Johnson positions Mimi and Frank as unconventional, intelligent and creative individuals rather than giving them a label or diagnosis. For a novel set in 2009 – 2010 this is unusual. People who see the world differently are often outliers, misfits, or innovators. They often change society for the better and in BE FRANK WITH ME Mimi and Frank, despite their quirks, clearly enrich the lives of the people around them. For Claiborne Johnson it seems that labels are not only unnecessary, but when used, can limit acceptance, tolerance and true understanding. Mimi and Frank are more functional with the support of Xander, Alice, and Isaac but in counterpoint, Xander, Alice and Isaac’s lives are fuller for knowing and loving the Bannings.

BE FRANK WITH ME is a book with rich and descriptive prose. Alice, Mimi, Frank, Isaac and Xander are all memorable characters because whilst they are deeply flawed their foibles ring true. Claiborne Johnson embraces their uniqueness, gifts, and stubbornness as they rail against the bland mediocrity of the mainstream.  Best of all, compassion and tolerance triumph and this makes BE FRANK WITH ME both refreshing and uplifting. This is a book to be enjoyed by anyone who loves American pop culture, film and literature, or anyone who needs to feel a little better about being a little bit odd themselves.

 

4 and a Half Pops

 

Deborah is a lifelong lover of books, food, TV and film with a penchant for schlock horror, superheroes, science fiction, black comedy and Asian martial arts stars. She would prefer to skydive than couch surf and is a fan of zombie walks. She can be found plugged into podcasts on long walks with her dog.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.