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MINDING FRANKIE by Maeve Binchy

MINDING FRANKIE

By Maeve Binchy

Pub Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-27356-7
Publisher: Knopf

A Dublin neighborhood full of many of the characters who frequently pass through Binchy’s Irish novels (Heart and Soul, 2009, etc.) bands together to help a young single father raise his daughter.

Aware she will not survive her baby’s birth, fatally ill Stella tells alcoholic loner Noel that he is the father. He doesn’t remember having actual sex with Stella and is far from certain he wants or can handle the responsibility. But with the help and encouragement of his cousin Emily, in Dublin on an extended visit from New York, Noel stops drinking and takes custody of baby Frankie after Stella’s death at St. Brigid’s Hospital. His transformation from loser to responsible, loving father and his struggle to convince his uptight social worker that he is fit to raise Frankie forms the central plot. But once Noel’s in AA and night school, he pales as a character. After so many novels, Binchy’s recurring characters have become so numerous that even devotees may have trouble keeping track. Here, hospital administrator Frank Ennis is the one to watch as he reaches out to the grown son he never knew he had. As usual, Binchy’s supporting characters steal the show. Social worker Moira seems like the stereotypical uptight bureaucrat at first, but her loneliness and painful self-awareness of her failure to connect to others become increasingly heart-wrenching. Moira has to overcome an unhappy family situation, as does Lisa, a graphic artist who moves in as Noel’s platonic housemate to escape her parents’ sham marriage, although she’s in her own sham love affair with a flashy restaurateur. Circling everywhere, boringly perfect Emily has an uncanny ability to ask the right question and solve problems—everyone in Noel’s life has a story. A dram of sorrow leavens the predictably happy ending.

Binchy remains the queen of spiritual comfort, but this time round she’s stretched interest thin with ups and downs too many and too mild.