Portofino: A Novel (Calvin Becker Trilogy) by Frank Schaeffer

Portofino: A Novel (Calvin Becker Trilogy) by Frank SchaefferTakeaway: Frank Schaeffer’s autobiographical novel has the unique ability to tell difficult truths without making the characters completely unlikable.

Just over two weeks ago Edith Schaeffer passed away at the age of 98.  About six months ago I had read Frank Schaeffer’s memoir, Sex, Mom and God.  So when I read Frank’s tribute to his mom a few days after she died I decided to read one of Frank’s autobiographical novels.

Portofino is the first of the Calvin Becker trilogy.  It covers several years of Calvin and his family’s vacations to the Italian seaside town of Portofino.  This book is fiction, but it is clearly based on the Schaeffer family.  Francis and Edith are clearly present and recognizable from Frank’s memoirs. But Frank’s four sisters are reduced to two in this novel.

What I most appreciate about Frank’s writing is that he presents difficult matters without making it personal accusations.  So Frank makes it clear in the novel that the mother likes to be overly long in her prayers particularly as a unwilling form of evangelism to those around them.  And that she uses the prayers as a form of preaching.  And the father has a temper, is most likely depressed and seems to be often unaware of the needs of his family.

But Frank also writes the parents of the novel with a kindness and grace that makes you still love them in their fallenness.  The sisters are probably not quite as well presented, but still there is a good and bad side to them and in the end you still mostly like.

Calvin is growing up in this book.  He starts at 10 years old, a boy that is interested in mostly playing and swimming.  But by the end of the novel he is 13 and becoming interested in his friend Jennifer for reasons other than those of his 10 year old self.

There is an uncomfortable feeling that I get reading Portofino.  I don’t know if it is because I have already read Frank Schaeffer’s two memoirs devoted to his parents or if Portofino carried the uncomfortable rejection of his parents all by itself.  But this is clearly written by an author that has turned his back on his parents.  Not that he doesn’t love his parents, but he has rejected much of what they stood for, and that shows.  These are less angry than the memoirs, but still carry the pain that is so clear.

I really do like Frank’s writing.  But about every six months is about as often as I can stand to read him.

Portofino (Calvin Becker Trilogy) Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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