I picked this book up in Costco and bought it because the description on the back spoke to me. Not because it sounded interesting, which it did, but because I recently lost an investment, I’m a writer, and I have a son. Sure I’m not a hugely successful writer depending on my next book to fix a devastating financial mistake, but Be Frank with Me still felt like one of those reads you need at a certain time in your life.
The premise is that Mimi Banning, a reclusive writer who wrote a famous book twenty years prior, has lost all her money due to a Ponzi scheme. She must now write a second bestseller to support herself and her son Frank. To aid her in this task, her publisher sends his assistant Alice to type the manuscript onto computer (Mimi will only use a typewriter). However, Alice turns into more of a maid and babysitter to Mimi and her son Frank, who is an eccentric nine year old boy obsessed with 1930s film stars and has nothing in common with the kids at school.
Be Frank with Me is definitely a character-driven novel. The majority of the novel centers around Frank and his shenanigans and Alice’s quest to discover the true identity of Frank’s father. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments and I felt like I knew the characters on a personal level. Johnson did an excellent job of describing the house, which became a character in itself. When the house burns and all of Mimi’s work is lost—and after she locks herself away from Frank in order to meet her deadline, too—I felt for her in a way that only a writer who has experienced a computer crash can. Writers put so much of their lives on hold to create and without any certainty that the work will pay off. To waste all that time would be heartbreaking.
The good news is that in the end, Frank’s eccentricities are what end up saving Mimi’s book. The real question is whether or not the book becomes an instant success like her first and saves them from financial ruin. The outcome of Mimi’s book after publication is left unexplored, which I felt was a flaw considering it forms the premise of the novel. I know that the ending is one of the hardest parts of a novel to write, and it’s impossible to write an ending that every reader will enjoy, but I felt that too many questions were left unanswered. Is Mr. Vargas Frank’s father? Will Frank be okay? What happens to Xander?
I felt the novel ended abruptly but everything else was done right, so I’m giving it 4 stars.