"The high point of my day was seeing Frank emerge from the chrysalis of his closet to unfurl his sartorial wings."
My Book Guru is three for three so far this year. It's time for another dinner and book discussion so I can get some more ideas! Her third recommendation, Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson is an entertaining little novel about a reclusive author and her ten-year-old autistic son and their "forced" cohabitation and interaction with an assistant from the author's publishing house.
MM Banning (Mimi) is a literary one hit wonder. Upon publication, her only novel becomes a huge hit, quickly earning its place in the school canon, and its author just as quickly retreats into herself, literally and figuratively, and is not heard from again for many years. (Shades of Harper Lee's life.) During this reclusive period, Mimi mysteriously becomes the mother of an autistic son. He is her only relative and she his, and for a while, all is well, until she becomes the victim of a scam artist and realizes she needs to produce another book to provide financial security for herself and her son, Frank. In order to write, Mimi needs help tending Frank, thus the presence of Alice, the assistant who serves as the book's narrator, in Banning's home. Given Frank's propensities, this task becomes almost Herculean in the effort it requires. Most of the book centers around Alice's attempt to find a way to develop a relationship with Frank. I won't say more. If you want to know how this turns out, read the book.
Several of the novel's themes resonated with me, especially given our current cultural climate. Both Mimi and Frank, each in her or his own way, are almost too sensitive to exist in our society as it stands now. When are we going to learn not only to accept but to embrace and celebrate difference? It's way past time for us to grow up and stop being threatened by and afraid of difference among us. That's what our bent toward tribalism and isolationism really is...fear. We are so afraid of those who are different that we band together en masse to expel them from our sight. How far removed is this from the practice of leaving our weak for the wolves? Think about that every time you find yourself telling someone to find a way to fit in or to "get over" injustice. How do we, as a society, respond to people who perpetrate banal and sophomoric cruelties like the ones Frank has to endure in this lovely little novel? Do we reject them, or do we elect them? Funny how we seem to be able to see the cruelty in others' stories but not in our own. To paraphrase one of my favorite teachers: we see the splinter in someone else's eye from 50 feet but miss the log in the mirror every time.