A comic novel about a prickly writer, her unusual young son, and their beleaguered caretaker, set in the Hollywood Hills.
Johnson's debut novel revolves around a literary recluse named M.M. Banning, "a college dropout from Nowheresville, Alabama," who "wrote Pitched, a novel that won her a Pulitzer and a National Book Award by the time she turned 20." That was years ago, and Banning, whose real name is Mimi Gillespie, has moved to a walled LA estate and published not another word. But now she's been "swindled of her fortune by a crooked investment adviser" and has to get a book out pronto. She inveigles her publisher to send her a huge advance and a full-time assistant to manage her household and take care of her son, Frank. Thus, a young Nebraskan blonde named Alice Whitley is dropped into the weird world of this mother-son duo. At age 9, Frank's daily attire includes tailcoats, yacht wear, cufflinks, a top hat, and a fez. He speaks in encyclopedia entries and makes observations far beyond his years, "as if he were reading off a teleprompter in the middle distance." While his exact diagnosis is not given, he cannot be touched, throws himself on the floor in a rigid corpse pose when upset, and has a genius IQ. As his mother puts it, "For a kid like Frank, hell is other children." While Frank quickly opens up to his new caretaker, the awful Mimi never does. Poor Alice has her hands full navigating these socially disabled characters through the disasters they bring upon themselves while also endeavoring to solve mysteries about their past and getting tangled up with their sexy family friend Xander.
The curious incident of where'd you go, Salinger: clever, sweet, but a bit derivative.