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Never Love a Stranger Kindle Edition
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I started this book expecting to be presented with the normal HR rip-roaring swash-buckler, full of gratuitous sex and violence; instead, I was surprised to find a thoughtful, intelligent, balanced, credible, compelling and beautifully told tale.
It is the story of Frankie Kane, an orphan growing up and coming of age in 1920s and 1930s America, and how his upbringing and experiences mould him into a self-centred loner, something of a sociopath.
Frankie has a strong moral compass and a well developed sense of right and wrong but the former is a few degrees adrift of the norm and the latter does not quite square with the way most folk see things.
The first main part of his moulding comes from being brought up in an orphanage; he is not subjected to any physical, mental or sexual abuse; he is, in fact, treated caringly and compassionately but the folk responsible for his upbringing do not have the capacity to give him the intimate warmth a family would.
The other main part of his moulding comes from living through the Great Depression; Frankie has a very strong work ethic and his inability to find a worthwhile job (or even, much of the time, any job at all) impacts very heavily on him.
The Depression and the organised crime and racial prejudice in America at the time are brilliantly depicted.
No more, to avoid spoilers, but this book is special and well worth a read.
There is even some (unintended) humour in it: Brother Bernhard, the priest in charge of the orphanage says things like “And what have you been doing wi’ yoursel’?”, “Where ha’e ye been bummin’?” and “Ha’e ye seen or heard from Francis o’er the weekend?”….which part of Scotland do you think he comes from?....that’s right, Wales!
The writing is incredible. It is gritty and atmospheric. It quickly draws you in to the story which is told mainly in the first person by Frankie. It is easy to imagine how desperate life must have been living through the Great Depression of the 1930s in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. The hand-to-mouth existence of the unemployed is vividly portrayed. However, it is not all doom and gloom as Frankie’s indomitable spirit shines through. Passionate, yet a loner who is desperate to succeed, he turns to a life of crime to survive. Even so, one can feel some sympathy for him as he faces the various hurdles life throws at him.
Every so often there is an interlude in the story and a welcome change of pace as one or more of his friends from his teenage years reminisce about his character. This is a clever way of providing an alternative view of both Frankie and some of the events that he has described.
I really enjoyed this story even though parts of it I found disconcerting. First published in 1948 it is in some respects a little dated now. However, for me, it is a superb example of storytelling at its best.
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