Friday, September 16, 2016

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

I like oddball novels, and this is definitely one of them: it's told in scrapbook form, the story of a young woman from Cornish, NH who goes to Vassar in the early '20s (the last time around, not in the future), continues on to New York City and then Paris in hopes of becoming a writer, and finds happiness in the end.

Of course it is called The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, which is something of a giveaway. (Author Caroline Preston has done three novels before, all of which I think were more conventional.)

Young Frankie is more of a wide-eyed innocent than she thinks, growing up in a small town, and falls in with a shell-shocked veteran whom the whole town soon assumes has debauched her. So her widowed mother then somehow comes up with the fee to send her to Vassar -- brainy Frankie, valedictorian of her high school class, had already gotten in, but had decided not to go due to financial hardship. And Vassar is even more of an education for country mouse Frankie -- I think I'll stop saying that, since it's the entire theme of the book; that Frankie keeps moving out into larger and larger circles and learning more about the world in surprising ways.

So: she studies, and makes friends, and eventually graduates from Vassar and heads down to NYC to become a famous writer. She meets another not-entirely-suitable man and gets a job sorting through submissions for True Story magazine..and, before long, is disillusioned and off again, to Paris. There, she lives in the small room above Shakespeare & Co., and gets a job on a very chic literary magazine, The Aero Review. (The scrapbook format, unfortunately, tends to turn Frankie's story into telgraphese, the more so as Preston is hitting lots of well-known things. It's frankly unlikely that one unknown young woman would be in the middle of so much so quickly -- and stay unknown.)

There's more love trouble in Paris, of course, and so Frankie flees back to Cornish, where she finds true love and happiness at last. (Which may work for this story, but it's a lousy message-- I'd rather see smart, spunky young women stay in Paris, or NYC, or go on to Berlin or San Francisco or anywhere else.)

Scrapbook is quick and pleasant; the pictures are more evocative than specific and the text is inevitably short and snippet-y. It's a weird kind of book, and I don't think it's as successful as it could have been -- the pictures could have been closer tied to the story, and the story could have been less conventional. But it's a valiant effort, and gets a lot of credit for trying something far out of the ordinary.

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