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Frank the Painter
A house painter meets a barista who won the lottery. She entices him to travel the world with her. The house painter is in love with a little person who turns out to be affiliated with the mafia. The barista and the house painter marry. Their struggle of finding ways to express themselves unearths mental illness and drug abuse. They seek to find themselves and lead healthy lives.
Kaplan’s satiric picaresque imagines a Cleveland painter’s absurd, semi-Quixotic quest for self-actualization, a spiritual and physical journey that will transport him from his native Cleveland all over the world and back again. When he’s not replicating the Sistine Chapel on the ceilings of his clients’ garages, talented house painter Frank stalks an employee, Carla, at the local stationary store. After one of his customers, Marissa, wins a million dollars, she takes Frank on a worldwide journey “to cultivate his talent” that ends with their marriage and adoption of a daughter from China. Frank embarks on a variety of bizarre schemes, such as founding a cult and assisting a start-up circus, all while trying to discuss spirituality and religion with a wide range of people.

In the midst of Kaplan’s narrative, a terrorist incident leaves Frank with another child, Jayden, who is reported to have psychic powers and becomes the central inspirational figure for Frank’s “cult of disbelief,” whose followers get called “Non Believers.” Kaplan adds peculiar twists when Carla kidnaps Jayden in revenge for Frank’s stalking and when Frank takes on the underground forces threatening Cleveland, all while dealing with his own mounting mental health crisis.

Kaplan’s lampooning of self-actualization narratives often hits its target, as when Frank joins a group of vigilante do-gooders who, with no training or qualifications, attempt to treat drug addicts. Yet Kaplan’s narrative is so overstuffed with that it loses focus, making it difficult to ascertain his perspective, which is critical in satirical writing. Readers will likely struggle to understand whether some offensive ideas (Jayden being named a “hermaphrodite”; Frank’s certainty that a Chinese man wants to eat his dog) are being parodied or presented in earnest. Frank is best when it slows down and explores a character’s interiority. Readers who relish playful satire will find Frank's adventures thought-provoking.

Takeaway: Lovers of the absurd will find plenty to cheer about in this overwhelming satiric novel.

Great for fans of: John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B