Friday, February 18, 2011

The News Where You Are / by Catherine O'Flynn

Frank Allcroft is a regional evening news anchor whose penchant for telling unfunny jokes on the air has somehow engendered him to viewers. For a man who makes a living as a television personality, Frank is remarkably secure with the whole thing. He has neither the vanity to feel mocked nor the pretentiousness to exploit his situation. It's become such a routine that he doesn't even prepare any of the jokes anymore, relying on a panel of beat writers and producers to come up with the material. His life apart from work is a happy one. Frank is a husband and father to two great women, wife Andrea and 12-year-old daughter Maureen "Mo", and even finds time to visit a third--his crotchety, protesting mother who always does her best to act grumpy while coyly getting her way. When his old friend and mentor Phil Smethway, once an immensely charming and humorsome TV presenter but a chronic alcoholic, dies in a mysterious hit and run accident, Frank begins looking for answers on his own. His search leads him to another dead man, a bum, more or less, named Michael who's just been found dead on a park bench. It turns out that this second elderly gentleman was one of Phil's best (and only) friends at the time he died and Frank proceeds to dig into Michael's own particularly odd history, ultimately learning all he needs to and more as the truth steadily comes to light.
More of a study on how past relationships form our worldviews than a conventional mystery or crime novel, O'Flynn's follow-up to her bestselling first novel What Was Lost (MYS OFLYNN) is a smart bit of storytelling about the life of a ("frankly") very normal man confronting some personally pivotal matters. Frank isn't a guy with too many problems (although it may be he's just not as effected by them) and he's a character who seems keen to the fact that his natural affinities always avoid extremes. Never terribly worried or concerned about his career and not overly obsessed with making relationships work, it might seem that descriptions of Frank are a bit dull. But O'Flynn manages it nicely, providing a steady supplement of backstory and context as the central narrative evolves. Periodically, the reader's introduced to Frank's upbringing where as a child he'd get in trouble for messing around in his father's office. An architect put in charge of constructing some of the city's (Birmingham, UK) most important structures, Frank's father was a tireless visionary who, though kind and loving to his son, favored his career more and more as the boy grew. Now as many of the buildings his father once so carefully designed are torn down and replaced, Frank confronts the progressive nature of society while coming to terms with the inevitability of death and transition, a symptom O'Flynn describes admirably well. This is a good book, well worth the short time it takes to read and though none of the characters, even Frank, are especially well-developed, there's something about the author's take on perception and motivation that grab the attention. (FIC OFLYNN)

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