You're in a bar nursing a Jack on the rocks. Your girl just quit you and you're hurting. But someone cares, someone whose voice cuts through the smoke, singing "The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)." He's been there before. You emulate his cool. You're in Sinatraland.
For window-blind salesman "Finkie" Finklestein, the narrator of Sam Kashner's first novel, there's no difference between the songs and Sinatra himself. Through almost two decades' worth of unanswered letters (beginning around the time of Eisenhower's inauguration), Finkie confides in Ol' Blue Eyes (whom he addresses as Francis), a man who seems to know it all. The letters reveal the many ways Finkie imagines parallels between Sinatra's life and his own: Finkie hails from Hoboken, has married and divorced, named his daughter Nancy Ava (after Sinatra's first two wives), and has dated a woman half his age (at about the same time Sinatra met Mia Farrow). Finkie even blurs the difference between their ethnicities ("Some of these Mobsters, I hasten to add, are not Italian but Jewish.") and chooses to ignore Sinatra's anti-Semitic slurs because, hey, we forgive our friends.
Finkie borders on pathetic, and throughout the book one wonders how far he'll go to win Frank's friendship. But in Kashner's hands, Finkie becomes endearing. Kashner pulls this off by surrounding Finkie with friends who actually encourage him to take his one-sided relationship one step further. Odette, Finkie's second wife, even prods him to finally meet Sinatra during his 1971 "farewell" tour: "The time has come, Finkie, to face yourself."
By Sam Kashner
Overlook Press, 192 pp., $22.95
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Finkie's relationship to Sinatra is like some people's to God he muses aloud about the myriad conflicts he faces, and the mysteries he can't make sense of. "One thing I do know is how lucky I am to have a pal like you, Frank," Finkie writes, "even if you do make me drink alone."
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