Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fiction Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I wasn't too excited when my book group chose The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom because although I had loved Albom's first two books - the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie and his unique first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven - I had been a bit disappointed in a later novel, The First Phone Call From Heaven. I ended up liking this latest novel better than I expected, though I still didn't love it. However, the rest of my book group raved about it and rated it very highly, so maybe you shouldn't listen to me! I'll tell you about it, and you can decide for yourself whether you might enjoy it.

The novel is narrated by Music and is about a baby born in Spain who later grows up to be a famous musician known as Frankie Presto. Frankie has a rough start in life, orphaned at birth and eventually brought up by a blind musician and shipped to America to keep him safe from the war. Frankie, however, is fortunate in one thing: he has amazing musical talent that is helped along by his early teacher. He also has some magic strings on the guitar he brought with him from Spain. The narrative structure is built around Frankie's funeral, as various people from the world of music (many of them real-life famous musicians) each give a eulogy and tell a piece of Frankie's life story, while Music fills in additional details about how Frankie eventually came to be a famous and very talented musician. Frankie lives a pretty amazing life, meeting up and playing with Duke Ellington, Little Richard, Elvis, Hank Williams, and more. But his life is also very tragic, with many losses along the way.

With Music as the narrator, the story is filled with musical references and metaphors. Weaving in so many real-life musical talents is an unusual but very effective approach - the author explains at the end how he contacted each of the famous musicians to interview them and get their permission to appear in this fictional story. So, why didn't I love this novel? It just felt a bit forced and emotionally manipulative to me, like Albom was trying too hard to be profound. I'm also not a big fan of magic realism, and there is a small thread about Frankie's magic guitar strings that runs through the novel. But, again, I was in the minority - most of the members of my book group were completely swept away in the story. My middling response may have been in part because I went into it with low expectations. If you've read other Albom novels, then you probably know whether you enjoy his approach. One thing's for sure, music lovers will likely enjoy this novel very much.

489 pages, HarperCollins

Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
by Mitch AlbomHardcover


  1. You said two key words: magical realism. Not for me! I think I'll skip this one.

    1. Yeah, me too! Once in a while one in that genre surprises me, but they are not usually my favorites.