Maeve Binchy has done it again. In Minding Frankie, she assembles a large cast of characters (many of them familiar faces from the close-knit Dublin neighborhood last depicted in Heart and Soul) and deploys them with her characteristic playfulness, effortlessly forming yet another warm tale of individual growth and human community.
Binchy writes about a baby girl born to a dying mother, who names the exact right person among her acquaintances to raise little Frances before she dies. That would be Noel Lynch, a victim of advanced apathy concerning just about everything in his life, which is further complicated by alcoholism. He could indeed be Frankie’s father, but it takes all of dying Stella’s determination to start things in the right direction, and before the story is done, the whole neighborhood bands together to see things done right by Frankie.
Binchy mourns the loss of community in the town, but a desire to work together seems alive and well as the neighbors gather ’round to care for Frankie—and to foil Moira, the rather nasty social worker who threatens to upset the carefully planned arrangements.
Even minor characters feel the jab of Binchy’s wit, like Miss Gorman, a secretary “who had a disapproval rating about almost everything,” and the Italian restaurant owner, who speaks in “carefully maintained broken English.” Ireland may not be what it used to be, but Binchy viably populates a modern version that is almost as heartwarming.
Binchy specializes in exploring human foibles without spelling them out in tiresome detail. Here she adds a 19th novel to a string of successes that take light-hearted looks at real life and always find it worth the effort. There’s a good chance that many readers, like this one, will consider Minding Frankie one of Binchy’s best novels yet.