Book Review: When Franny Stands Up

In her raucous debut novel, Eden Robins takes us back to the Chicago comedy scene of the early ’50s, where women work magic through a microphone.

William Shunn

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When Franny Stands Up
by Eden Robins
400 pp.
Sourcebooks Landmark
November 1, 2022

In a stylized illustration, we see a brown-haired woman in a blue dress from behind as she approaches a spotlit old-fashioned microphone before an audience of dim silhouetted men.
Detail from When Franny Stands Up book cover, by Vi-An Nguyen (Sourcebooks Landmark)

A caveat before I get to When Franny Stands Up, the debut fantasy novel by Chicago writer Eden Robins. Eden is a friend of mine. I met her something like twelve years ago, when I still lived in that windiest of cities. We were introduced by a mutual friend who brought a few of his favorite people together on a quick trip through town. It turned out Eden had attended the Clarion West Workshop a couple of years earlier. I’d gone to Clarion at Michigan State a couple-three decades earlier, so we had plenty to talk about.

About a year later, Eden and I started a small writers group, which evolved into one of the hubs of my working and social lives in Chicago. I read a lot of her work, I attended her wedding, met up with her and her husband in London during one of their many extended adventures across the globe. When I moved back to New York City, Eden took over my position as a co-host of the Tuesday Funk reading series and made it a far more inclusive institution than I had ever managed. I always admired the no-bullshit way she approached her interactions with the world.

As for her debut novel, When Franny Stands Up, I’m happy to report — no bullshit — that it is excellent. Set mostly in 1951, it tells the story of Franny Steinberg, a young Jewish woman who gets caught up in the distinctly unladylike world of standup comedy. If that description (not to mention the cover art) makes you think of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, friend, you’ve got another think coming.

Franny lives with her parents and older brother just outside of Chicago, in the nominally progressive suburb of Oak Park. The Irish Catholic neighbors treat the Steinbergs with a sort of amused, paternalistic tolerance, but not even the Steinbergs can be bothered to extend the hand of welcome to the Black family that has moved in across the street.

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William Shunn

Writer, poet and puzzle maker. Hugo and Nebula Award finalist. Author of The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. He/him/Bill.