Frankie’s Place

When war correspondent and reporter Jim Sterba met Frances Fitzgerald—the Frankie of the title—not only did he come to love her, but her summer home (and somewhat eccentric) family as well. It was like a fairy tale come true: poor farm boy marries wealthy heiress. Frankie is a member of the venerable Peabody family of New England, and distinguished in her own right as author of Fire in the Lake (1972) and other well-received books.

The “love story” of the subtitle refers not only to their relationship, one that evolved from friendship to romance, but also is a valentine to Mount Desert Island on the Maine coast. This is, in fact, mainly an account of their idyllic summers there, the natural wonders of the area, and the friends and family who shared it with them. It is also a cautionary tale of how once unspoiled beauty came to be increasingly threatened over the years they spent there.

Sterba derives a certain amount of rueful humor from the differences in his and Frankie’s personalities. Rather than a pampered socialite, she is an overachieving and super-athletic woman who chivvies her guests into long hikes in all weathers and makes them swim in frigid waters. He, despite his bucolic upbringing, likes the indoor comforts of both Maine and Manhattan where they live the rest of the year.

Although he was known for his crisp and incisive factual reportage, here he waxes almost elegiac when describing the joys of life in Maine. He even includes several recipes that he developed over the years, using the lobsters and other fresh seafood caught in the area. In some ways, this book defies easy categorization and this is both its strength and its weakness. What to some will be a delightful read (perhaps akin to a modern-day Walden) to others it will perhaps be too understated and meandering.