All the News I Need by Joan Frank
University of Massachusetts Press: 1/17/17
trade paperback; 168 pages
All the News I Need by Joan Frank is the story of two friends
by default who rail against aging and loss, and decide to take a trip
to Paris together that instigates changes in their lives.
Oliver (Ollie) Gaffney is a 62 year-old gay man who lives in San
Francisco. He is shy, lonely, awkward with others, and subject to panic
attacks. Frances (Fran) Ferguson is a 58 year-old widow who lives in
wine country. She is foul-mouthed, sharp-tongued, hard-drinking, and
also lonely since her husband Kirk passed away. Kirk was the connection
between Ollie and Fran. Now they are both lonely. After all they have
both been through, Fran regards Ollie as her brother now. "A dear, good,
mad, exasperating, f***ed-up, insoluble brother."
They both have experienced the pain of loss and feel their age creeping
up. Even though they both appreciate their set routines, they also feel
like life might be passing them by and all they have left is a slow
march toward death. Fran insists that the two take a trip together to
Paris. She is sure it will be good for both of them. And, in an odd way,
this is true.
Frank won the 2016 Juniper Prize for Fiction
from the University of Massachusetts Press in this story that
examines aging, friendship, loss, and regret. "Because of course she
feels what he feels.... People their
age natter along not copping to it but the awareness is billboarded
all over their faces - a wavering, a hesitation, even those who
used to crow and jab the air. The tablecloth of certainty, with all
its sparkly settings, has been yanked, and not artfully. It's why
First I need to get this off my chest: I didn't like this novel at all
for most of the book. Good grief, 58 and 62 aren't all that old anymore.
If it is, then I guess I'm on the cusp of my dotage - not bloody
likely. I sort of think, personally, that Ollie and Fran need to snap
out of it and get a life. And the short, choppy sentences, especially at
the first chapter, drove me bananas.
Then I hit Ollie's visit with Fran, and, while I still didn't care for
either of these characters, I was at least wondering where this would
go. But, when Frank introduced the rules for aging Ollie and Fran
devised, I was amused and intrigued. I still didn't think either of them
should remotely be thinking of themselves as having one foot in the
grave and have all of their attention focused on aging. There is
something to be said for living your life on your terms.
Frank had a arduous challenge to win over this reviewer, however, when I
reached the end of the novel, I became a fan. The conclusion was
brilliant. Is is so brilliant, it appeased my earlier displeasure. All
the elements of the plot came together resulting in a sense of
completeness. After pulling this off, I can say beyond a doubt that
Frank is a brilliant writer. She managed to transcend the ordinary in
the creation of two very different, realistic characters. I was
surprised at how I tilted from strongly disliking All the News I Need to highly recommending it. This is one you have to read to the end.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this
book from the University of Massachusetts Press for TLC.