By Julia Claiborne Johnson
William Morrow, 2016, 287 pages, General Fiction
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.
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.
This book was a lot of fun to read. Julia Claiborne Johnson’s wit shines through, setting up each joke then making you wait a moment before the punchline drops. Frank especially is a firecracker, acting adorably and precociously one minute, then getting into scrapes as only a young boy can the next. While this book is a comedy, each character is fully fleshed-out with flaws and private ghosts. Johnson does a great job of keeping some surprises for the very end. Like Alice, I too was fascinated by the different characters and the story behind how they found each other. Those who enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette? will also enjoy Be Frank with Me.