Mitch Albom’s latest novel The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is a tear-jerking and over-emotional chronicle of the evolution of American music through the twentieth century.
In the 1920s, classical music was overshadowed by the popularity of jazz and R&B, which ultimately lead to the creation of rock in later years. At the heart of this cultural change lies Albom’s protagonist, Frankie Presto.
The novel is told in a series of fragments that flash forwards and backwards through Francisco “Frankie” Presto’s life. It begins during the Spanish Civil War, when the young, orphaned guitarist is forced to flee everything he has ever known, including his adopted father and beloved guitar teacher. Once he arrives in America, Francisco is thrust into a life of hardship where his only salvation lies in music. The story follows Frankie as he tours through the U.S. accompanying multiple musical virtuosos, falls in love, rises to worldwide stardom, finds seclusion on an island in New Zealand, and more.
The principle argument of the novel is that, “everyone joins a band in this life,” meaning that one’s various relationships are akin to the relationships formed in bands of musicians. Although Frankie struggles to belong to a family by blood, he befriends many people that share his love for music. At the oddest of moments, Frankie meets people that have defined their genres of music, including: Django Reinhardt, Hank Williams, Darlene Love, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley. Along with hits by these musical forerunners, the book also references original tracks. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is the first novel to be released alongside a studio-produced album (of the same name.) It features artists such as Ingrid Michaelson, Matt Kearney, and others.
Furthermore, the plot focuses on the effects produced by Frankie’s relationships: whenever he profoundly impacts the life of another person, one of Frankie’s magical guitar strings turns blue. While enchanting in theory, this plot device is over-kill when added to the rest of the novel’s conflict. It gives the novel a saccharine edge, reminiscent of Albom’s other works such as Tuesdays with Morrie.
The most intriguing component of the book is its narrator: a personified form of music. Similarly to the notable bestseller The Book Thief, the all-knowing narrator of Music relays the plot to the reader, while also remaining the focal point that the story revolves around. The voice of Music uses musical dynamics and terms such as adagio (slow tempo/speed), allegro (happy or brisk tempo/speed), and many others to describe various scenes. Music’s snarky yet spunky narration is a surprisingly satisfying addition to the tone of the novel.
While it does contain fascinating, somewhat individualized elements, the novel exerts too much effort in the attempt to become a seamless work of musical inspiration. Although the protagonist does convey a supreme love for music, the conflicts that arise around him are forced, relying on cliches instead of real emotional depth.
2 out of 5 stars