The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, Mitch Albom
I won this book from Goodreads and was looking forward to reading it. I try to like most of the books I read and truly made an effort with this one. Since I also obtained an audio version which seemed exceptionally interesting because of the awesome array of well-known narrators, some who were performers, I decided to listen to it first. After finally getting through the audio, I could not bear to plow through the written version. I have enjoyed several of Mitch Albom’s books in the past, but this one was not one of them. I kept wondering where the tale was leading. Where and what was the inspirational message?
The book begins with the birth of Frankie Presto and marches on until his legendary death. The story is about what seems to have been a child prodigy, from all accounts of his musical ability. He grew into a phenomenal musician whose amazing talent and special gift was that he inspired others to play and improve their own skills. His unusual and valuable guitar had magic strings that turn blue. As the book progresses, the mystery of the blue strings is solved.
When the book begins the narrator is identified as Music. Music has come to claim what is due, to take the gift of music from the deceased who no longer needs it so it can be passed on to another who does, another who lives. The gift is passed on to Francesco Presto when he is born. Music continues to narrate the story, joined by the voices of the non-fiction characters that have come to eulogize Frankie Presto upon hearing of his death. They speak of him as if he has truly had an influence on their lives and their world of music.
Francisco Presto was born in Spain, in 1936, during the Civil War. At his birth, his mother, Carmencita, sings him a song about tears, and his tears soon begin to drive the novice nun who rescued him for his mother, and her neighbors, to distraction. Although she feels forced to abandon him, in order to survive, she watches over him from afar, for the rest of his life. This child will survive and grow up with an amazing ability to sing, dance and play his guitar. So, to summarize, he was born in a church that was being attacked during a war, then he was rescued by a nun and subsequently thrown into the water by the same nun, Josepha, abandoned and left to die, but then he was saved by a hairless dog and raised by a stranger, Baffa Rubio, who worked in a sardine factory. He was then taught by a blind musician, El Maestro, who drugs him and sends him off to America at the behest of his quasi father, Baffa, now in prison. El Maestro, the blind musician is then robbed and murdered by Alberto, after putting Frankie, drugged, on board a ship. For his whole life, Frankie had one true friend and lover named Aurora. As children, they met in a tree, and she reappears from time to time at significant times of his life. The live together and Aurora becomes pregnant. While Frankie is off on an ill-begotten binge, Aurora is mugged and loses their baby. She disappears, once again. Frankie has an unhappy marriage, his career declines. Aurora reappears at a low point in his life and they marry and eventually raise an abandoned child named Kai. She also becomes an accomplished guitarist.
The author covered the entire entertainment industry by including the names of many well known composers, movie producers and performers throughout the book. Mentioned were Bach, Andreas Segovia, the Beattles, Wynton Marsalis, Arrowsmith, Janis Joplin, Fats Domino, Duke Ellington, Burt Bacharach, the Everly Brothers, the Drifters, Beethoven, Francisco Tarraga, The Who, Chet Atkins, The Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley and so many more that I could go on and on, but perhaps that is where the fault in the book lies. It simply tried too hard to cover too many basses. Drug addiction, Hurricane Katrina, Woodstock and then the Viet Nam War was even entered into the narrative as Frankie became an entertainer of the troops!
I found the love story of Frankie and Aurora lacking in credibility. Yes, Aurora, the love of his life was a saint who seemed to always magically appear when needed, and yes, the nun, Josepha was his guardian angel, but then what? What was the ultimate message of this book? Do we live until we do all the things our heart tells us to do? Is it the good we do that determines how much time we have on earth? With the last magic string was his life no longer deemed useful? Was music Frankie’s mistress or master? Was he Moses rescued from the water and assigned the thankless task of saving others? The reason why the strings turned blue left me completely unmoved.
I wondered, also, if it was the author’s intention to include and promote every liberal piece of philosophy he could think of, in his book. One got the sense that Frankie preached against war, smoking, drugs, alcohol, guns, violence and a host of other things, while he abused most of these things in his own life, at one time or another. I also wondered if the reference to music, as in “I Am Music,” by the character in the book that represented “music”, was meant to bring Barry Manilow to mind. He was the man who composed the song with the lyrics, “I am Music and I write the songs”.
I found the repetitive sayings annoying rather than thought provoking. Frankie in a love sick way kept repeating “Aurora, that means dawning”, (until it doesn’t), and also “will you stay”, to which she replies yes and no alternatively, until she finally does and so does he; she asks him the same question a number of times. Music keeps saying “I am music” and “everyone in life joins a band, ad nauseum, to refer to the different groups that form and reform engaging Frankie throughout his life.
The audiobook is read well by the author, Mitch Albom, and famous guitarists and singers: Paul Stanley of Kiss, John Pizzarelli who also played guitar for Paul McCartney, George Guidall an actor and narrator of audio books, Mike Hodge of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Robin Miles, an actress, director, and audiobook narrator, Christian Baskous, an actor and audiobook narrator, Tony Chiroldes, a bilingual actor and voice-over performer, Kevin O’neill, a writer, director, and music video producer, and Adriana Sananes, a linguist who once studied dancing is a narrator and an actress.
Albom himself is a songwriter, musician, journalist and author. He wears many hats and is very talented. In this book, he allowed the participants in the narrative to imagine their own memories of Frankie Presto as if he was a real performer who had a real life-changing effect on them and their worlds. For me, the story was simply too hokey and too contrived, not like his other books which transcended the fantasy world of this book and which were more of his own ideas. This story soon became overly sentimental and simplistic, like a child’s fairy tale.