By Julia Claiborne Johnson | Published in 2016
A celebration of quirkiness and the more lavish of times, Johnson’s novel presents a strange yet heartwarming relationship between young Frank and his mother’s assistant, Alice. The two form an odd and somewhat interdependent pair; Alice is constantly seeking Frank’s approval while Frank remains fixated on gaining his mother’s. Mimi, a once respected and wealthy author, is trying to re-establish herself after years of financial troubles, often leading her to focus more on her work than Alice or her son.
Family comes in many forms, Johnson shows, and even the most unconventional and dysfunctional of them can be admired and understood. Although one can easily resonate with Alice’s naive optimism or Mimi’s desired isolation, Frank prevails as the most thoughtfully constructed character. He is a precocious individual, infatuated with historical art and facts, but eagerly communicates his impressive knowledge and unusual interests in the most childlike of manners. His innocence and hunger to learn highlights his mother’s guilt and willing defeat; each one is misunderstood to the other. Nevertheless, Frank’s has an appreciated connection with Alice, and she aids in bridging the gap between mother and son.