• Paperback: 210 pages
• Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (January 17, 2017)
All The News I Need probes the modern American response to inevitable, ancient riddles—of love and sex and mortality.
Frances Ferguson is a lonely, sharp-tongued widow who lives in the wine country. Oliver Gaffney is a painfully shy gay man who guards a secret and lives out equally lonely days in San Francisco. Friends by default, Fran and Ollie nurse the deep anomie of loss and the creeping, animal betrayal of aging. Each loves routine but is anxious that life might be passing by. To crack open this stalemate, Fran insists the two travel together to Paris. The aftermath of their funny, bittersweet journey suggests those small changes, within our reach, that may help us save ourselves—somewhere toward the end.
“Joan Frank has gifted us with two unforgettable characters in a novel filled to bursting with hard truths and shimmering beauty.” —Bob Wake, Cambridge Book Review
Joan Frank is a human insight machine.” —Carolyn Cooke
“I will be quoting her ‘rules for aging’ at many dinner parties!” —Natalie Serber
About Joan Frank
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction and a collection of essays on the writing life. She lives in Northern California with her husband, playwright Bob Duxbury. Visit her at www.joanfrank.org.
What I thought:
Fran and Ollie. What is there to say except ask “Where’s Kukla?”
Fran is a no-holds-barred scientific observer. “She has moved well passed the time of caring“(5). Fran is not as hardcore as she likes to present; she gets weepy during sentimental commercials. She has resolve, though, and is not afraid of greeting problems with “For fuck’s sake.”
Ollie is introspective, worrisome, a pretender, fraudulent, paranoid, sensitive. Has he every been happy?
Now well past middle-age, these two accidental friends find themselves in a funk. Everything is over for them…”Dating’s over. Partners over” (9). They are both void of hope and alone. Neither of them has anyone else.
Although the publisher’s blurb mentions the humor in All the News I Need, I didn’t find the book to be rollicking full of fun. There’s a bit of rueful humor throughout as in their compiled and agreed upon “Rules for Aging” (68):
- No body odor.
- No dragon-breath
- No hair poking from wrong places.
- No food stains.
- No flaking.
- If you lose your hearing, get a hearing aid.
- No talking to people with your eyes closed.
- No speeches about malfunctioning body parts (or diets or meds).
- No blow-by-blows of surgeries.
- No display of scars.
- No bitterness of the passing of time.
- No not keeping up with technology.
- No whining.
The last rule left me pause. There’s lots of whining in the book, both from Fran and Ollie. There’s also a lot of bitterness about the passing of time.
Fran suggests they accompany each other to Paris to help Ollie out of his depressed state. She sees this trip as a philanthropic duty and forces Ollie to agree to go, even as he remembers his last youthful trip to the City of Lights: “Two stunned weeks sleeping in hostels, zigzagging around like a lost child, constipating himself eating bread and cheese” (6).
In all actuality, Fran wants to regain the time she spent in Paris with her late husband, to revisit sentimental spots and to “send bulletins to Kirk” (147).
As I plowed through, I had visions of an older book I read in the 90s: Generation X by Douglas Coupland. If I had not been told the characters of Fran and Ollie were in their early 60s, I would have maintained I was reading about two twenty-somethings who had not found themselves yet. However, as a fifty-something, I could absolutely identify with their musings, longings, and regret.
At times, I thought the novel read more like a short story and honestly until the final pages I did not know what kind of review I would give this book. In the final pages, Frank won me over. Maybe it was because both Ollie and Fran finally began to have fun.
All the News I Need is not a foodie book but because it delves into the day-to-day existence of the characters, there is of course basic sustenance. Since both characters are misanthropic throughout the majority of the novel, there are no glowing descriptions of food, even during their sojourn in France.
A few descriptions did stand out to me though. There’s one of Ollie’s many self-chastisements, “Why did I buy those nectarines out of season” (21) which reminded me of an aging Prufrock’s peach questioning. Ollie later describes the contrariness of Fran: “Sympathy and scorn, oil and vinegar” (56).
I decided to use these two lines for a salad inspiration.
Nectarine Salad with Oil and Vinegar
- 2 T. Champagne vinegar
- 1 t. dried shallots
- 1 t. Dijon mustard
- 1 t. honey
- 1/8 t. salt
- 3 T. olive oil
- 5 oz. baby arugula/spinach mix
- 2 ripe nectarines, cut into wedges
- 1/4 c. shaved Asiago
- 2 oz. prosciutto
- fresh ground pepper
- Place vinegar, shallots, mustard, honey,salt and oil in small jar. Screw on lid and shake until combined.
- Divide arugula/spinach mix among 4 plates and top with equal portions of nectarine, Parmesan and prosciutto. Drizzle with dressing. Serve with a grinding of pepper on top, if desired.
This makes four small salads or two large entree salads.
Of course, as far as libations go in the novel, there’s wine (both French and domestic) and Fran’s beer (drunk two-fisted).
Please also note that I was totally buying nectarines out of season as well.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tour for an honest review. All opinions, exclamations, gushings and rants are my own.
I am also linking up with March Foodie Reads…
…and Novel Food…