“I’m sure that you will be an artist one day, Mike. I’m convinced of it. Everything you do has such style,” Auntie Hankie told the nephew she adored “beyond life itself.” Young Michael Frank thrilled to his childless aunt’s attention, her talk, her certainty that he was special, “her spark—her sparkle.” He lived for their frequent outings together in and around Los Angeles, after school as well as on Saturdays.

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And he lived by her fierce dictum: “Fitting in is death. Remember that. You want to stand apart from your peers. Always.” How could he do otherwise, striving daily to reward her devotion, to nurture the cultural interests she prescribed? No wonder he hardly knew where to turn when, in adolescence, he struggled to escape her thrall, and she succumbed to possessive rage.

Frank brings Proustian acuity and razor-sharp prose to family dramas as primal, and eccentrically insular, as they come. His aunt, in addition to being his father’s sister, was married to his mother’s brother—and they were not just Mike’s alternate, all-consuming parents. They were Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriting duos from the late 1950s through the 1980s. As Frank discovers the dark flaws in his aunt’s script for him, he also reveals what she got right, and couldn’t wreck. Frank’s eye and ear, his words and wit—the voice in these pages has such style. Better yet, the style is utterly his own.