The story of Frank Sinatra’s rise and self-invention and the story of his fall and remarkable comeback had the lineaments of the most essential American myths, and their telling, Pete Hamill once argued, required a novelist, “some combination of Balzac and Raymond Chandler,” who might “come closer to the elusive truth than an autobiographer as courtly as Sinatra will ever allow himself to do.”
Now, with “Frank: The Voice,” Sinatra has that chronicler in James Kaplan, a writer of fiction and nonfiction who has produced a book that has all the emotional detail and narrative momentum of a novel.
Mr. Kaplan’s spirited efforts to channel his subject’s point of view can result in some speculative scenes, which make the reader race to the book’s endnotes in an attempt to identify possible source material. For instance Mr. Kaplan tries to recreate Sinatra’s tumultuous romance with Ava Gardner and tries, not always that convincingly, to map his complicated feelings about the mob. But at the same time Mr. Kaplan writes with genuine sympathy for the singer and a deep appreciation of his musicianship, and unlike gossipy earlier biographers like Kitty Kelley and Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, he devotes the better part of his book to an explication of Sinatra’s art: the real reason readers care about him in the first place.