Mitch Albom’s new novel The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is a modern-day myth, combining magic, music, and pop culture into a powerful, inspirational story. Beginning in the midst of the Spanish Civil War and ranging across decades and settings from New York City to New Zealand, the story chronicles a single fictional life with such passion and honest emotion—not to mention musicality—that even the most cynical readers will find themselves wiping away a tear before the story’s over.
Albom fans, be sure to head to your local Barnes & Noble store on Black Friday, November 27. A limited number of signed editions of The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, and books by other acclaimed authors, will be available for purchase.
The story of Frankie Presto is narrated by Music itself, imagined by Albom as an intelligent, active spirit that attends every birth to see if the new soul will reach out to it, then accompanies those that do throughout their lives. When he performs a selfless act as a child, Frankie is granted the power to save six lives, represented by six magical guitar strings, and the story Albom weaves with them is complex and philosophical.
The musical education
Albom isn’t content to tell us Frankie is a musical prodigy; he seeds the story with painless music lessons and references to music theory and history, not to mention a list of composers and compositions both famous and obscure. Readers who take notes and seek out the songs Albom references to will be rewarded with a deeper reading experience—and a fuller music library.
The celebrity cameos
Frankie Presto’s life is a messy and meandering one: he moves from orphan to stowaway to mega-selling rock star; from a washed-up and drug-addled has-been to a contemplative music teacher. Borrowing from the real-life stories of musicians like Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson, Albom sells the myth by peppering his novel with cameos from musical luminaries including Roger McGuinn, Tony Bennett, and Lyle Lovett, all with a secret connection to Presto. These sections are wonderful, adding a real sense of verisimilitude to the story.
That messy life
Albom is smart enough to know that if Frankie Presto were a selfless saint, we’d lose interest. Instead, he creates a character filled with contradictions, a man who falls in love with his wife at first sight as a child, yet spends much of his life running from her. A man who is perhaps the most gifted guitarist in history, who stops playing in pursuit of fame at a time when singers, not guitarists, were the big stars. Presto’s flaws and mistakes make his journey a fascinating one.
The voice of Music
It was a risk to cast no less than the voice of Music as a narrator, but Albom hits just the right notes. As a narrator, Music is disconnected from the desires of humanity, but filled with affection and empathy, following Frankie throughout his life without condemning or canonizing him, and offering the reader musical history and technical knowledge that deepens our appreciation of the story.
The love story
Early on, Music tells the reader it has only one rival in Frankie’s heart—a girl named Aurora. The love story of Frankie and Aurora is unique: after meeting once as children, they both know they are destined to be together, and they spend their youth searching for each other in vain. When they finally meet, Music describes their relationships in terms of a symphony’s movements, going from fast and passionate to slower and tragic, but even as they spend years apart, even as Frankie makes mistakes that cost him terribly, they find each other again, and Frankie’s oft-repeated question, “Will you stay?” grows more powerful as the story goes on.
Albom’s myth might seem to be about the power of music, or of love, but the real lesson lies in Frankie Presto’s magical guitar strings: Frankie has the power to save six lives—and he does—but not always purposefully. The lesson here is subtler: we all have a similar power. We all change and affect lives. Just like Frankie, we’re not always aware of it, but that doesn’t make our impact on the universe any less.