book cover

By Mitch Albom
Published by Harper Collins
497 pages

This is a novel for anyone who has ever listened to a musical performance that made your jaw drop, the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and your breath removed by its sheer beauty and power. This is a novel, too, for those musicians who have had that moment when you have been part of a musical performance that has left you feeling nothing but connected with the higher power of music. In other words, this is a book for all, because we’ve all had that kind of connection with music, one way or another.

Mitch Albom’s character, Frankie Presto, is followed from birth to death, tracing his life as a guitarist of phenomenal talent and skill. We see Frankie from his first days on earth in the mid-1930s, where his mother sacrifices more than anyone can be expected to . . . where a dog and a bachelor have their lives changed by the child . . . a teacher who grasps on to the young Frankie to teach the important lesson that music is more than the notes (quote from the book: a teacher’s shadow can hover for life) . . . to how the love of Frankie’s life comes and goes . . . to his connections with many musicians over his lifetime . . . to the success of his daughter as a benefactor of Frankie’s music . . . and so much more, but I had best stop there to not give away too much.

The author Albom has crafted a surprising way to tell the story. The narrator of the story is music itself. Music explains how talent is given to all in varying portions, of how all the musical styles out there are relevant, and then uses all this narrative to tell us Frankie’s story. And it is not exactly an omnipotent view, either. Music itself almost becomes a character of the story as well as the narrator. This is one of the marvels of Mitch Albom’s writing style.

The story of Frankie Presto is that of a career musician. He learns his music, he shares it, first in small places, and then through his travels, manages to climb to the heights of music popularity as a young rock and roll star, and then falls into anonymity as time passes. Frankie can sing and play the guitar as if he has been infused with music. In his adventures from Spain and many places around the earth, Frankie meets so many other musicians – the list is long, passing through time, from Big Band names like Duke Ellington to hard rock musician Paul Stanley and modern day jazz man Wynton Marsalis. Interspersed within the narrative of the Frankie Presto story line, the author has cleverly included separate chapters written in the voice of actual real-life musicians, as if they knew and worked with Frankie. Again, like the voice of music as narrator, this is another clever and effective mechanism used by the author to bring the story to life, to make it as real as possible.

At the core of the story is the theme of music as a power. Music, as the reader meets it as the narrator, explains the effect music can have on the performer and the listener. Music, as the motivator that give Frankie his ups and downs in life, gives us a taste of the reality of the difficulty of learning to play music, of the deep satisfaction of a performance well done – and ultimately, how music is more than the notes on the page.

We are all part of a band at least once in our life, insists the author … and some of us are part of many bands. How many bands he’s been in is Frankie Presto’s story. Though Frankie is a fictional character, there is a great deal of truth and relevance of music in our actual every-day life.