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The Mighty Franks

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“It was so good that I had to read it twice”: The New Statesman names The Mighty Franks one of the 2017 books of the year.

The Mighty Franks  is named one of the 50 best books of 2017 by The Telegraph.  

“My feeling for Mike is something out of the ordinary,” Michael Frank overhears his powerful aunt tell his mother when he is eight. “It’s stronger than I am. I cannot explain it . . . I love him beyond life itself.” With this indelible bit of eavesdropping, we fall into the spellbinding world of The Mighty Franks.

The family is uncommonly close: Michael’s childless Auntie Hankie and Uncle Irving, glamorous Hollywood screenwriters, are doubly related—Hankie is his father’s sister, and Irving is his mother’s brother. The families both live in Laurel Canyon. In this strangely intertwined world, even the author’s two grandmothers—who dislike each other—share an apartment ten minutes away.

But strangest of all is the way Auntie Hankie, with her extravagant personality, comes to bend the wider family to her will. Talented, mercurial, and lavish with her love, she separates Michael from his parents and his two younger brothers as she takes charge of his education, guiding him to the right books to read (Proust, not Zola), the right painters to admire (Matisse, not Pollock), the right architectural styles to embrace (period, not modern—or mo-derne, as she pronounces the word, with palpable disdain). She trains his mind and his eye—until that eye begins to see on its own. When this “son” Hankie longs for grows up and begins to turn away, her moods darken, and she stages a series of shattering scenes that force Michael to reconstruct both himself and his family narrative as he tries to reconcile the woman he once adored with the troubled figure he discovers her to be.

In its portrayal of this fascinating, singularly polarizing figure, the boy in her thrall, and the man he becomes, The Mighty Franks will speak to any reader who has ever struggled to find an independent voice amid the turbulence of family life.

Read an excerpt from The Mighty Franks on Tablet Magazine

Frank “seems to have had an unearthly quality of perspective…There is a lastingly sane quality to his riveting memoir that’s reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird….an extraordinary tale.”

—from Gaby Wood’s five-star review in The Daily Telegraph.  Read the full review here or as reprinted in The Irish Independent

“A narrative that could unfold only in a place where fantasy and reality blur with treacherous ease….The author connects the dots subtly between his relatives’ capacity for self-invention and their employment in the dream factory….[A] probing and radiantly polished account.”

—Peter Haldeman, The New York Times Read the full review

“A marvelous, clear-eyed memoir….almost thriller-like….beautifully written.”

—Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal Read the full review

“Frank brings Proustian acuity and razor-sharp prose to family dramas as primal, and eccentrically insular, as they come.”

—Ann Hulbert, The Atlantic Read the full review

“Frank is a master of self-reflection, under the bowl of blue sky and in those closeted canyons.  He says nothing in an ordinary way; everything has a dreamlike smoothness, born out of his extended act of retrieval and the remembered violence of emotion and inconstancy….I doubt you’ll read a better memoir this year.  The Mighty Franks is full of humour and brittle irony.”

—Philip Hoare, The Guardian Read the full review

Asked by The Guardian which book he most often gives as a gift these days, Jonathan Franzen answered, “Lately it has been Michael Frank’s brilliant and recently published memoir, The Mighty Franks.

—from “Jonathan Franzen: The Books That Made Me.” Read the full conversation here

“Michael Frank’s [memoir] may be the first to expose narrative abuse. In The Mighty Franks, he recalls being imprinted for life by a pair of Los Angeles ‘sorcerers’, verbal enchanters who immured him within a fairy-tale world…Witty, moving…beautifully written and timely.”

—Michael Saler, TLS Read the full review

“Acutely perceptive…[Frank] performs such an incisively intimate autopsy on his clan’s psyche that the result comes close to being an exorcism,  a perfectly balanced near-gothic blend of the fascinating and the horrifying.”

—Susan Wloszczyna, The Buffalo News Read the full review

“You can only agree with Franzen: The Mighty Franks is brilliant.  Memoir, psychological drama and coming of age story all in one … Michael Frank is an amazing storyteller and his memoirs are beautifully told”—from the five-star review in Denmark’s  Børsen 

“Tenero, feroce, divertente e doloroso, I Formidabili Frank è uno di quei libri di cui ci si innamora” / “Tender, ferocious, entertaining, and painful, The Mighty Franks is one of those books you fall in love with”

—Giuseppe Culicchia,  l’Espresso

“Questo memoir è il momento terapeutico in cui l’autore fa i conti con la propria esperienza di figlio e nipote…e ne ricava un’ottima prova letteraria, un libro da ricordare per il suo vero, ingombrante protagonista, Zia Hankie” / “This memoir is a therapeutic exercise in which the author comes to terms with his experience as a son and nephew…and makes out of it an outstanding literary work, a book worth remembering for its true, unwieldy protagonist, Auntie Hankie”


“La confessione in pubblico di una vita difficile e insieme fascinosa che mette sotto la lente di ingrandimento una famiglia dove i legami sono troppo stretti e trasformano in ostacoli insormontabili, fino ad esplodere in vera e propria follia” / “A public confession of a both difficult and fascinating life that trains a magnifying glass on a family where the ties are so close that they turn into insurmountable obstacles until they explode in true craziness”

—Paulo Mauri  La Repubblica 

I Formidabili Frank non è una cronaca, seppure affascinante, di una famiglia senza dubbio unica (‘Un fratello e una sorella sposarono una sorella e un fratello. La coppia piú anziana non aveva figli e quindi quella più giovane glieli prestava…’), piuttosto un percorso emotivo e intellettuale insieme per restituirci una storia dove ognuno può ritrovare aspetti della propria famiglia.” /  “The Mighty Franks is not merely an account, however fascinating, of a family that is, without a doubt, unique (‘Brother and sister married sister and brother.  The older couple didn’t have any children, so the younger couple shared theirs…’), so much as an  emotional and intellectual journey that captures a story in which we can all find aspects of our own families”

—Simonetta Bitasi, Lettore Ambulante

“Una bislacca e fascinosa famiglia … un divertente spaccato di vita tribale cinematografica che ha al suo centro Zia Hank, una matta fascinosa attratta dal passato e dalla bellezza” / “An eccentric and captivating family…an entertaining portrait of the life of a movie clan that has at its center Aunt Hank, a mad, fascinating original obsessed with the past and with beauty”

—Irene Bignardi, Il Venerdì di Repubblica

“Un memoir che pare nato per diventare un film….La verità lampante è l’amore di Michael per lei, Hank.  Il tipo di amore che esige la distanza dall’oggetto per senirla vicina, e per sempre.  Fino al regalo di questo libro.” / “A memoir that feels like a born film….Its sparkling truth is the love that Michael feels for Hank.  It’s the kind of love that requires distance from its object in order to grasp just how powerful it is, and how enduring.  The result is the gift of this book”

—Tiziano Gianotti, DdiRepubblica

“È un memoir davvero formidabile, il ritratto dei componenti di una famiglia, i Frank, che di normale non aveva quasi nulla.  L’autore mette insieme con maestria i suoi riccordi di bambino cresciuto tra le colline di Laurel Canyon” / “A truly formidable memoir, the portrait of a family, the Franks, who had nothing remotely normal about them.  The author recalls his childhood growing up among the hills of Laurel Canyon with true mastery

—Liana Messina,  F

“Beautifully written, perfectly paced, uncomfortable, tender and surprising”—TLS  editor Toby Litchtig on awarding The Mighty Franks the 2018 JQ Wingate Prize. Read a more detailed account on

The protagonist’s “combination of intellectual confidence, sophistication and beauty is something that could have come from the pages of Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch or, indeed, Proust….In any year, a book like this Wingate winner’s would have melted all hearts because of its captivating real-life heroine. You fall in love with her, much as the author does, and even when the comedy darkens, her magnetism remains”

—from a piece by Amanda Craig in  The Telegraph

“Literary , crisp,” Bognørden, the Danish literary blog, says of The Mighty Franks.  “A truly strong memoir…an absolute must read.” Read the full review here

“Let me put this right here, right now: Michael Frank’s tone of writing is sharp, emphatic, and elegant, with anger smoldering just below the surface, so the story is never brought to a halt; it constantly threatens to explode like a pressure cooker…. Aunt Hankie is marvelous company, for Michael and for us as readers.  A woman as far removed as can be from clichéd depictions of ‘a terrible woman’, she is much more many-faceted in her alluring, narcissistic, and at the same time loving and demanding personality. She is a woman who reminds you of Thorkild Bjornvig’s descriptions of Karen Blixen in his book The Pact: My Friendship with Karen Blixen.  Harriet Frank is the seductive teacher who is capable of opening doors to worlds that are marvelous to such a degree that Michael Frank feels blessed for having the opportunity to be let in. Literature, architecture, art and movies, of course. But at the same time she is the witch who constantly tries to wedge a distance between the boy Michael and his parents. Slowly she drags her nephew into her game of love and excommunication, artistic ambition and loyalty….The result is a joyously gruesome read”

—from Thorkil Jacobsen’s review in Denmark’s Berlingske

The Mighty Franks reminds us of the fact that the truth about a human being is a story that is never told exhaustively…. [The author] rewinds his own childhood and redefines his own identity, and as a reader you go on a parallel journey, rewinding through your own life….The book is at once gruesome, highly readable, and told in scintillating, stylishly written language—equally stylishly translated by Karsten Nielsen.  Michael Frank…digs deep in his own personal history to form the narrative of a family that is so full of drama that you will find it hard to believe—unless you have a family yourself”

—from Denmark’s Kristeligt Dagblad

“An original autobiography, well written, full of smells and images recalled with talent….Frank condenses more than half a century of life that ranges from the intelligent child harassed in school…to the understanding of the mature man and accomplished writer.” 

—El Cine De Lo Que Yo Te Diga Read the full review

“This is an altogether charming portrait of a close, if unusual, Hollywood family, written with exceptionally precise language from the point of view of the skilled wordsmith Michael Frank. His narration is personal, unique, and exceedingly warm. The texture of his words and the quality of his performance are so rich that the audiobook seems like fiction, though the work is not a novel.”

—from a review of The Mighty Franks audiobook in AudioFile Magazine.  Read the full review here

“Poignant resonance…[a] beautifully written family portrait.”

—The National Book Review, listing The Mighty Franks as one of its Five Hot Books.  Details here

“A superb memoir.”

—The Telegraph, in naming The Mighty Franks one of the 70 best books to read this summer.  See the full list here

“This searing memoir…is a white-hot snapshot of being seduced then brutalized by arrogance, entitlement and manipulation.”

—Martin Rubin, The Washington Times Read the full review

“Writer Michael Frank is a brave man.  His memoir, The Mighty Franks, paints an excoriating portrait…extraordinary…powerful, eloquent.”

—Linda Harris, New Zealand Listener Read the full review

“I gobbled up this deliciously dark, profoundly poignant memoir in two half-days. The Mighty Franks is Hollywood gothic, complete with distorted families, claustrophobic passions, silver-screen glamour (sometimes borrowed, sometimes earned), submerged hurt erupting from poison tongues, and confected narratives.”

Jo Case, Readings Monthly Australia Read the full review

“Immediate, gut-wrenching…deeply involving.”

—Shelf Awareness Read the full review

“Extraordinary….More than a memoir, this is really a study of human pathology, a book that should be widely read for its insights into families and the process of growing up.”

Library Journal Read the full (starred) review

“In thoughtful, fluid prose, [Frank] evokes the magic and sophistication of a vanished Hollywood intelligentsia schooled in the language of cinema. Readers will be enthralled.”

—Publishers Weekly Read the full review

“A dramatic and often moving portrait of a woman who seemed to be one person until she revealed herself to be someone else entirely, this is one of those memoirs that simultaneously fascinates as it makes us uncomfortable….Should I be averting my eyes? Maybe, but I can’t because I want to know what startling secrets will be revealed next.”


The Mighty Franks is a tremendously smart and beautiful portrait of one of the most interesting and memorable families I’ve encountered. Crackling with sorrow and wit, Michael Frank’s gorgeous, moving and intensely compassionate memoir will stay with me for a long, long time. An astonishing book.”

—Molly Antopol

“An utterly magical book.  Michael Frank inherits Truman Capote’s glorious ability to recreate the past in an act of exquisite, knowing retrieval. Set on the glamorous, conflicted fringes of 20th century Hollywood, Frank’s memoir is a glittering, happy-sad evocation of his elegant, tyrannical, stylish aunt and the rest of his extraordinary family. I hung on every word, spying through his child’s eyes. This is intense and lyrical prose: I never wanted it to stop.”

—Philip Hoare

The Mighty Franks is very easy to love and very hard to put down.  It is a terrific portrait of Los Angeles at a particular time for all of us who ever fantasized about growing up with pools, palm trees, and, yes, even the occasional star.  Moving, wonderfully written, and marvelously drawn, it is filled with characters who love you, hug you, drive you crazy, and sometimes make you cry.”

—George Hodgman

“This is one complicated family.  How do any of us survive our families?  The how of The Mighty Franks is beautiful, tender, forgiving, funny, and fiercely honest.  Michael Frank’s book will certainly join the canon of classic memoirs.  I adored it.”

—Maira Kalman

“An astonishing story of a relationship and a family that ends up the wrong side up and inside-out. Beautiful, strange and true.”

—Ian Sansom

“Be careful when you start reading The Mighty Franks since you won’t be able to stop. As finely drawn as it is acutely observed—painful, honest, evocative, spare—this portrait of an extraordinary family is a work of art.”

—Jean Strouse

“To paraphrase Tolstoy, interesting families are unhappy in mysterious ways, and in this subtle memoir full of hard-won wisdom, Michael Frank gives us an indelible portrait of his own. His imperious, beautiful, infuriating Aunt Hankie, in particular, is one of the great Difficult Women of contemporary literature.”

—Judith Thurman