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The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

I don’t often listen to audiobooks – mostly because I tend to doze off, and then I lose my place. Or I get distracted and stop listening for a moment, and lose my place. Well, some books are just meant to be heard rather than read, and The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is definitely one of them. Read by the author but featuring a few famous names as themselves and other people (including Roger McGuinn, Ingrid Michaelson, John Pizzarelli, and Paul Stanley), it’s a brilliant tale that meanders through the history of modern music.

In this novel narrated by music, who introduces us to Frankie at the time of his death, Frankie Presto is a Spanish war orphan who is abandoned in a river. He goes on to become a musician comparable in fame to Elvis, the best guitarist who ever lived. Traveling to America in the bottom of a boat at the age of nine, his only possession is a guitar with six magic strings, and his only friend is a hairless dog who refuses to leave his side.

When I first bought the ebook, I flipped through the first few pages and had to force myself to stop reading (since it wasn’t that book’s turn yet, and I try to stick to my list). The use of personified Music as narrator is really interesting stylistically, and I was fascinated with the musical terms that are used to describe the tempo of a day, the crescendo of an emotion and the pause of a rest. It gives the book a magical tone that meshes well with the magical realism of the unlikely coincidences that frame Frankie’s life.

Beginning at Frankie’s funeral, I loved the intervals in which the people who knew him most intimately share the ways in which he affected their lives. Albom actually connected with the famous people whose lives he has inserted this fictional character into, and a lot of them contributed their own words to those sections to make them more authentic. It gives an added layer of richness to the story, and also gives a sense of the community of musicians that came together and played together and created the music that we know today.

Towards the end, however, I felt that the story began to drag a little. As Frankie’s career rises and then begins to fall, the denouement became depressing. However, right at the very end, Albom brings in an interesting device that ties everything together. It was neatly done, although I think that it could have been done a bit sooner. I don’t want to give much away, but I was surprised by the ending, and my own predictions proved to be wrong – it was very clever.

This is a brilliant audiobook, and the many voices who tell the story of Frankie Presto give it a richness and a variety that makes it a thrilling story to listen to. A book about music, narrated by music, is absolutely a book that should be heard rather than read, and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Book Thief, All The Light We Cannot See, and the music of the 1950s-1980s.