Be frank with me A novel

Julia Claiborne Johnson

eAudio - 2016

A sparkling talent makes her fiction debut with this infectious novel that combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the page-turning spirit of Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Reclusive literary legend M. M. "Mimi" Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff-style ponzi scheme, she's flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies-with a few stipulations: No Ivy-Leaguers or English majors. Must drive,... cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane. When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she's put to work right away-as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer's eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders. As she slowly gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who Frank's father is, how his gorgeous "piano teacher and itinerant male role model" Xander fits into the Banning family equation-and whether Mimi will ever finish that book. Full of heart and countless "only-in-Hollywood" moments, Be Frank with Me is a captivating and unconventional story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world.

Saved in:
[United States] : HarperAudio 2016.
Corporate Author
hoopla digital
Main Author
Julia Claiborne Johnson (-)
Corporate Author
hoopla digital (-)
Other Authors
Tavia Gilbert (-)
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Physical Description
1 online resource (1 audio file (8hr., 38 min.)) : digital
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
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Review by New York Times Review

EARLY ON IN Julia Claiborne Johnson's first novel, the wise reader - or, perhaps, the forgiving reader - will find a clue that will suggest how best to read this book. Mimi Banning, the reclusive writer at the center of its plot, explains to her new assistant, Alice Whitley, that her 9-year-old son, Frank, was once obsessed with gangster epics but has "moved on" to screwball comedies. Like those antic films of the 1930s and '40s, "Be Frank With Me" is meant to be taken lightly, presenting a candy-coated fantasy of life in the first decade of the current century, fueled - like Frank - by nostalgia for ostensibly less complicated eras. In Johnson's New York, editors at important publishing houses pluck their assistants from the staffs of Apple stores, without regard for their literary inclinations or knowledge, and "old immigrant ladies ... with black babushkas and hairy moles on their stevedore arms put pillows on their windowsills and park themselves all day to take in everything streaming along the sidewalks." In Johnson's Los Angeles, the handymen aren't desperate undocumented immigrants but Juilliard-trained pianists with Adonis-like profiles, and children who display all the signs of Asperger's syndrome - as does Frank - are referred to as "eccentric" and "an odd duck." That said, the novel, set largely in 2009, begins with a nod to a real-life scandal: A Madoff-style swindler has worked his charm on Mimi. "By June, she was on the brink of losing not just her house but also the copyright to her book, collateral she'd given high-end loan sharks who marketed themselves as money managers to the rich and clueless." The book in question, "Pitched," came out in the 1970s, when Mimi was just 19, and still sells a million copies a year. So far, so "The Catcher in the Rye." But the resemblance ends there. Rather than retreating from fame, like Salinger, Mimi moved to Los Angeles, worked on the film adaptation of her novel, married its star and installed herself in a Bel Air mansion. Thirty-odd years later, she's ditched the movie star and mysteriously acquired Frank, father unknown. Fans still camp out in front of her house, even though she's never published another word. Having lost nearly everything, Mimi calls her editor, Isaac Vargas. She's ready to write another novel, provided he supply her with "a huge advance and an assistant, bankrolled by the publisher." In short order, Vargas sends Mimi his own girl Friday, Alice, a bossy, pragmatic Nebraskan, thinking she'll keep his star writer on track to meet her deadline. Instead, Alice - who narrates in a voice that vacillates between irresistible charm and grating cutesiness - finds herself charged with overseeing Frank, who speaks in a "weird monotone," can neither be touched nor allow anyone to lay a hand on his belongings, regularly spends time "wrapped in his comforter, rolling on the floor and muttering to himself" to calm down, and copes with frustration by bashing his head into glass doors and metal poles. Obsessed with old Hollywood, Frank spouts facts about Gloria Swanson and Fred Astaire, and dresses in argyle socks, straw boaters and zoot suits. High jinks ensue. None particularly believable. Would Frank's piano instructor, the Juilliard Adonis, really give him a box of Roman candles for his birthday? Would Mimi - who sends her son to a fancy school and allows him to be seen by a psychiatrist - really be so casual about dealing with him at home? And would Mimi - who orders everything online - really compose her new novel on a typewriter? Despite Johnson's fierce intelligence, one can see the gears of plot methodically turning, rather in the vein of Hollywood comedies of more recent vintage. Which doesn't, of course, mean there isn't a lot of fun to be had along the way. Sit back, forgiving reader, and enjoy the show.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [February 28, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review

When famous, reclusive author M. M. Mimi Banning is swindled in an investment scandal, she promises her editor a long-awaited new book in exchange for an advance to keep her afloat and an assistant to manage things while she's writing. Sent to fill that role, Alice Whitley discovers the job is more complex than anticipated. Her interactions with Mimi are icy, while her relationship with the mysterious, sometimes live-in piano teacher-cum-handyman is complicated. But Banning's nine-year-old son, Frank, proves her biggest challenge. Eccentric and brilliant, Frank endearingly bears the clothing and manners of a 1930s movie star, but his curt habits and odd paranoia take some getting used to and alienate him from other kids his age. Alice becomes increasingly close to Frank as Mimi's typing continues behind closed doors, but the more attached she gets, the more questions she has about the strange family she has stumbled into. Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.--Ophoff, Cortney Copyright 2015 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

M.M. Banning, a reclusive one-mega-hit novelist now in her 50s and living in Bel Air, CA, with her nine-year-old-son, Frank, is in trouble. Brought to the brink of bankruptcy by a Madoff-like investment adviser, Banning is up against a deadline to finish her long-awaited second novel (she was 19 when she was skyrocketed to fame by the success of her first book). Banning needs an assistant to manage both her household and Frank, an eccentric genius who is a walking sartorial delight (inspired mostly by 1930s movies) as well as a whirling dervish with perilous tendencies. Banning's New York publisher sends his assistant Alice Whitley to the rescue. Alice's gifts for managing Banning's acerbically rigid demands and Frank's enormous behavioral challenges are beautifully inspired by her lovely heart. VERDICT Johnson's magnificently poignant, funny, and wholly original debut goes beyond page-turner status. Readers will race to the next sentence. And the next. Her charming, flawed, quietly courageous characters, each wonderfully different, demand a second reading while we impatiently await the author's second work. [See Prepub Alert, 8/17/15.]-Beth Andersen, formerly with Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review

Alice, a New York publishing house assistant, arrives in Bel-Air thinking she's going to help a famous novelist with her new book. Instead, she becomes the companion to the novelist's nine-year-old son, Frank, who not only loves old movies but dresses like their stars. Clever, thoughtful, touching, and at times hilarious. ( Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Public Library, CA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.