Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Mitch Albom Makes Beautiful Music in New Novel

Ever since the huge literary success of "Tuesdays with Morrie," Mitch Albom has been trying to reach the same level of storytelling magic. His five books that followed "Tuesdays with Morrie" were each wonderful in their own unique way, but seemed to lack the passion of his masterpiece. The recurring themes in his follow-up novels have all given tips of the hat to his magnum opus about Brandeis professor Morrie Schwartz -- mentorship, death and dying, faith and spirituality, and leaving a legacy -- but they just didn't have the same best seller qualities.

Now, Albom follows up his recent book about phone calls from the beyond ("The First Phone Call From Heaven," 2013) with a new novel that seems to weave all of his themes into one volume. With "The Magic Strings of Frankie Pesto" (Harper), Albom has taken his writing to a whole new level. He was at his best when writing about his personal heroes -- a dying college professor and a dying childhood rabbi -- but this book is Albom's first about his lifelong passion of music.

I've grown up reading Mitch Albom's sports columns in the Detroit Free Press and was a fan of his early books (all sports-related) long before "Tuesdays with Morrie" came out in 1997. Anyone who has followed Albom's writings and his local Detroit radio show knows that he knows a lot about sports, but he's most enthusiastic about music. So, it makes perfect sense that the narrator of his newest book is Music (the concept of music personified).

On the second page of the book, Albom, a talented musician who plays in a band, is already making beautiful music with the written word. He introduces our narrator in a rhythmic crafting of verse: "I am Music. And I am here for the soul of Frankie Presto. Not all of it. Just the rather large part he took from me when he came into this world. However well used, I am a loan, not a possession. You give me back upon departure."

We are introduced to the main character of Albom's fantasy at his own funeral. Frankie Presto is an iconic music legend who is "the greatest guitar player to ever walk the earth." A Spanish war orphan and musical prodigy, Presto is sent to America on his own at the age of 10. All he has with him is a six string guitar gifted to him by his beloved Maestro. Albom's story is a fantasy, but he weaves in real music icons from history including Duke Ellington, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, Lyle Lovett, Burt Bacharach and Paul Stanley. Through the stories of these musicians we learn about the remarkable life of Francisco de Asis Pascual Presto.

The magic and beauty of Albom's story as told by Music is that Presto's guitar is magical in that its six strings affect people's lives in serious ways. Possessing such a magical musical instrument proves to be both a blessing and challenge for Presto, who died suddenly while performing at a concert. We become acquainted with Presto through the anecdotes of those whose lives were touched by him.

Once again, Mitch Albom has crafted a beautiful story that forces us to think about the concept of a life well lived -- how we are judged after we die by the way we lived our life and influenced others. Albom's protagonist who dies in his latest story isn't a mentor to the author in real life like his teacher or rabbi in previous books, but somehow he still brings his audience to tears with his masterful storytelling. One might presume it would be more difficult to explore the faith, spirituality and legacy of a fictional character, but Albom brings his literary magic once again thanks to putting this book's narration in the hands of his true passion -- Music.

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