The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

Written by Mitch Albom
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Music is revealed in the first pages as one of the narrators, which made me a bit skeptical about the device. But Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) makes it work. Music is joined as narrator by its devotees Wynton Marsalis, Burt Bacharach, Roger McGuinn, and Paul Stanley, among others, whose differing voices move the plot along and kept me reading.

Born in a besieged church during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Francisco Presto bounces between two foster fathers, one of whom is a blind guitarist, El Maestro, who passes on his musical knowledge to the boy and arranges for Frankie to escape Franco’s Spain for America. El Maestro supplies him with a guitar with special strings which turn blue, a touch of magical realism that happens when Frankie affects the life of someone around him.

His climb to fame brings him in contact with the guest narrators and many other famous people in the music world: at one point, Frankie secretly stands in for Elvis during a concert, and has an impromptu performance at Woodstock. Frankie falls in love, but pursuit of a pop career affects his relationship with Aurora. While he eventually seems to secure a musical legacy, he struggles to find peace in his personal life.

The story jumps around in time, but that kept me guessing: Why was Frankie searching for eggs at Woodstock? Is the hairless dog going to reappear again? I didn’t think the storyline was difficult to follow despite being nonlinear. The impact of the ending was lessened a bit by one too many coincidences, but it was satisfying to have the plot threads completed and mysteries solved. I liked the novel a lot, and so will Albom’s many fans. “Everyone joins a band in this life. And what you play always affects someone.”