Turning 81 is not a remarkable event, unless a milk float runs you down, giving you a concussion, breaking your arm and fracturing your foot. When this happened to Frank Derrick, his remark was probably nothing more than “ouch.” Then Frank’s daughter decides he needs some home help while he recovers, and he’s positive that he’ll be stuck with some cruel woman who would possibly scare (and maybe even look like) Margret Thatcher. When the pretty, 27 year-old Kelly Christmas shows up at his door, the only thing he’s sure of is that this isn’t what he was expecting, and that’s a good thing. This is J.B. Morrison’s novel “The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81.”
First, let me say that Frank Derrick is not Harold Fry (although if you liked his unlikely pilgrimage, you’ll probably enjoy this book as well). Frank Derrick is a lonely, widowed pensioner living with his cat Bill underneath the flight pathway of Gatwick Airport, with his only daughter living in America. However, unlike your typical grandfather, Frank isn’t quite as out-of-touch with today’s world as many writers like to make their older characters out to be. Yes, his memory isn’t quite what it used to be, and there are things that anger or confuse him or make him wary of their value, but he’s hardly helpless (except with his finances). He’s adept with his cell phone (including texting), has a collection of movies on DVD, can surf the Internet (on the library’s computers) and would prefer to listen to the Beatles or the Sex Pistols than songs written before, during or just after WWII. In fact, he doesn’t like people thinking of him as an elderly person – he’s cool.
All of this makes Frank all the more realistic, and Morrison makes sure that we adore him from the onset, even when he’s being pigheaded or doing something he himself knows is stupid. Sure, he doesn’t have a whole lot to occupy his time, doesn’t eat very healthily and wastes his money, but overall, he actually takes good care of himself, somewhat. Of course, a fractured foot and broken arm do make his life more difficult, and that’s what Kelly is there to help with – but only for 12 weekly visits. The limited time Kelly has with him makes Frank believe that his life has never been extraordinary, but rather it’s always been extra ordinary, and maybe Kelly can change that for him.
It should be obvious that what we have here is a beautifully crafted and lovingly written character study that delves into the elements of friendship and loneliness. Included is also a sideline that looks at relationships between the young and the elderly – both on professional and personal levels. This might sound like it could be very heavy, and admittedly, there are some very poignant scenes here. Even so, Morrison handles all this with just the right amount of humor, and you’ll find yourself smiling from start to finish. This, together with the honesty that Morrison brings to Frank, makes this a truly endearing story and the type of character you’ll hope to meet (or be) some day. For all this, I have to give this novel a full five stars out of five, and highly recommend it.
“The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81” by J.B. Morrison, released on June 5, 2014 by Pan Macmillan (Pan Books), is available in paperback, audio and Kindle versions. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader copy of this novel via NetGalley.