About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#53: Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie, by Maeve Binchy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

"When Noel learns that his terminally ill former flame is pregnant with his child, he agrees to take guardianship of the baby girl once she's born. But as a single father battling demons of his own, Noel can't do it alone.

"Fortunately, he has a competent, caring network of friends, family and neighbors: Lisa, his unlucky-in-love classmate, who moves in with him to help him care for little Frankie around the clock; his American cousin, Emily, always there with a pep talk; the newly retired Dr. Hat, with more time on his hands than he knows what to do with; Dr. Declan and Fiona and their baby son , Frankie's first friends; and many eager babysitters, including old friends Signora and Aidan and Frankie's doting grandparents, Josie and Charles.

"But not everyone is pleased with the unconventional arrangement, especially a nosy social worker, Moira, who is convinced that Frankie would be better off in a foster home. Now it's up to Noel to persuade her that everyone in town has something special to offer when it comes to minding Frankie."

Opening Line:
"Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon."

My Take:
I will probably regret this. Binchy used to be an easy go-to when I wanted something light and entertaining, but after reading Heart and Soul in the first few months of this blog, I'd pretty much sworn her off. (Well, I occasionally flip through my old paperback copy of Circle of Friends if I can't sleep, but that's different.) Much like an Irish Anne Rivers Siddons, the author grew formulaic and predictable, and/or I just plain had had enough. We'll see how this one plays out. It is, of course, a library book, so it won't cost me anything other than time.

(afterwards) All in all, I'd give this one somewhere between a B and B-. The story's not nearly as boring and the characters not half as wooden as the ones in Heart and Soul, but Binchy does make the same mistake again here of trying to cram as many characters from her previous novels into supporting roles in this one, and the effect is forced and confusing.

The main characters, for the most part, are fine. Noel is a recovering alcoholic, which I don't think Binchy's touched before (quirky lovable small-town drunks in some of her 1950s and '60s-era novels aside) ... and while this is hardly a serious treatment of how alcoholism affects an individual and family, she at least throws a few relapses in there to make it half-believable. Emily, the American cousin, is a bit too perfect and efficient to believe, and Lisa, the classmate who moves in on a whim after seeing her father bring a prostitute home ... a halfway-interesting character, if one that's been done before (talented but naive young woman falls for charming, utterly fake gentleman? Hello, Ella Lynch from Quentins.) I'm also fine suspending my disbelief about a social worker having any leg to stand on when it comes to putting Frankie in foster care -- the child has a father who's employed, nothing unsafe or unsuitable at home, and babysitters/ extended family galore coming out of the woodwork -- only because Binchy's Irish and I'm not, and I just plain may not get how the social services system works there.

But it's really not necessary to stuff Declan and Fiona, Aidan and Signora, Clara Casey and Frank Ennis, Maude and Simon, and probably several others I'm forgetting into the supporting roles here. A, as I've said before, coincidences like this that mostly work in a small town of 50 years ago aren't really plausible in 21st century Dublin. B, the overall effect ends up being that instead of getting to know a small number of characters pretty well, you're asked to keep track of a few names and details of a whole long list ... most of which still doesn't make sense unless you've read all Binchy's previous books and kept track of the characters from same.

So ... not as bad as I was expecting, but nothing fantabulous, either.

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