Loving Frank: A Novel

by Nancy Horan

Hardcover, 2007

Call number




Ballantine Books (2007), 384 pages


Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current. So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives. In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America�??s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney�??s profound influence on Wright. Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan�??s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world. Mamah�??s is an unforgettable journey marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility, leading inexorably ultimately lead to this novel�??s stunning conclusion. Elegantly written and remarkably rich in detail, Loving Frank is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman, a national icon, and their timeless love story. BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Nancy Horan's Under the Wide and Starry Sky. Advance praise for Loving Frank: �??Loving Frank is one of those novels that takes over your life. It�??s mesmerizing and fascinating�??filled with complex characters, deep passions, tactile descriptions of astonishing architecture, and the colorful immediacy of daily life a hundred years ago�??all gathered into a story that unfolds with riveting urgency.�?� �??Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light �??This graceful, assured first novel tells the remarkable story of the long-lived affair between Frank Lloyd Wright, a passionate and impossible figure, and Mamah Cheney, a married woman whom Wright beguiled and led beyond the restraint of convention. It is engrossing, provocative reading.�?� �??�??Scott Turow �??It takes great courage to write a novel about historical people, and in particular to give voice to someone as mythic as Frank Lloyd Wright. This beautifully written novel about Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright�??s love affair is vivid and intelligent, unsentimental and compassionate.�?� �??�??Jane Hamilton �??I admire this novel, adore this novel, for so many reasons: The intelligence and lyricism of the prose. The attention to period detail. The epic proportions of this most fascinating love story. Mamah Cheney has been in my head and heart and soul since reading this… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
Horan's novel is based on the real-life affair of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The Cheneys contracted Wright to build a house for them, and in the course of their planning discussions, the two fell in love. Despite the fact that both were married (Wright had six children
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and Mamah had two, plus was raising her deceased sister's child), they eloped to Europe in the early 1900s. While the book does detail their scandalous affair, it focuses equally on Mamah's burgeoning feminism and her efforts to use her intellect to forge a career as a translator and to help other women towards self-actualization. Details of the building of Talieson, their Wisconsin "love nest," are fascinating, as is their gradual acceptance into the community. Horan manages to give this couple's relationship a meaning beyond their own passion and the scandalous and tragic headlines that surround it.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
You don't have to know much about Frank Lloyd Wright or be "into" architecture to enjoy this book which is a fascinating look at the history and culture in the early 1900's as well as a complicated love story with the added bonus of a surprising ending. Although I didn't find any of the characters
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to be especially likeable, the story of their interactions is riveting. I'm sure FLW was brilliant and this book reflects both his brilliance as well as his very egoistical and conflicted personal side.

It is Mamah's character that is the most interesting. She is embracing the emerging women's movement and feels that she is seeking freedom from the traditional role of a woman; however, her life revolves around FLW. Everything she does from leaving her children, moving to Europe, moving back to Wisconsin, living in a house with no heat doesn't seem like freedom but rather a warped dependence and need to be with someone greater than herself. At one time, Mamah finds herself outside in deep snow where she is "knee-deep and snow blind" -- pretty much sums up her life experience.

This book is so well written that one can easily envision the sometimes beautiful and sometimes bleak settings and one can feel the tension between the characters come right off the page. I read this for a book club and our discussion was one of the best ever; I would highly recommend this book. It is not only a book about FLW, but also a book about society's view of women during this time period.
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LibraryThing member brainella
How is it possible that neither Frank Lloyd Wright nor Mamah Borthwick Cheney have enough redeeming qualities to entice me to finish this book? I could not, no matter how hard I tried, force myself to finish this book. Frank is a self-absorbed snot, and Mamah is a whiney, foolish woman. Mamah
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leaves her children and her husband to follow a married man around Europe because he's all that and a bag of chips? Hardly. These two people are over-indulged and completely lacking in character and morals. Who wants to read that? I didn't find this to be an amazing love story. I found it horrifying that people would be so reckless with the lives of their families.
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LibraryThing member Dorritt
Found this tale of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, mistress to Frank Lloyd Wright, disappointing. Is it a human thing to expect extraordinary lives to be lived by extraordinary people, or just an American thing? As portrayed by author, Mamah never feels remotely extraordinary. She’s a woman
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who was willing to defy some social taboos (leaving husband for lover) but not others (continues to insist she’s dedicated to her children … though she doesn’t attempt to see them for years at a time); she graduates from college (not common for women at turn of the century) but never really does anything with her degree/learning; she rubs shoulders with radical thinkers (Ellen Keyes, Goethe) but never adds anything meaningful to these movements; and she spends years in an intimate relationship with Wright without ever having any noticeable impact on his philosophy or art. Pretty much all that distinguishes her is her rather spectacular death at the end. Note that I said “as portrayed by the author,” because we can’t really know if Mamah was this uninteresting – that’s just how Nancy Horan depicts her. A part of me wonders to what extend Mamah’s true “radicalism” is blunted by Horan’s desire to portray her as a sympathetic figure. If this had been an autobiography rather than a biography, would we have liked Mamah less but admired her more?

Another major disappointment is what I call the “evening news effect.” Due to the limited amount of primary source info available (Horan stipulates to just how little in an important endnote), Horan apparently has attempted to flesh out the story by dumping everything she turned up in the course of her research into the story, no matter how irrelevant. Thus we are forced to endure scenes, pages, chapters of information (she planted a garden! her daughter was constipated on the train to Colorado!) that add neither to the story nor our understanding of Mamah’s character.

Perhaps the most distracting flaw (for me), however, was the lack of insight that the book provided into Frank Lloyd Wright’s career. Sadly, Borthwick’s life intersected the famous architects’ during what were probably the most fallow years of his career – after his vision was already shaped but before he began building some of his most spectacular edifices. We end up learning more about Wright’s sideline buying and selling Japanese prints than we do of his architectural career. As depicted by the author, Wright comes off as rather whiny, spoiled, and overbearing … but, again, to what extent is this perception shaped by the intent and/or prose of the author? There’s no way to know.

Ultimately, found myself resenting the fact that such an extraordinary life (wealthy, educated, travelled the world, hobnobbed with influential people) was wasted on such an ordinary woman. Would have been a much more exciting life, not to mention a much more exciting book, if Mamah had taken more advantage of the opportunities that her life afforded her.
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LibraryThing member Oregonreader
This novel is based on the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Maymah Cheney. I think most readers would be drawn to the book because of the interest in Wright. However, the book touches only superficially on his career, describing his philosophy of architecture in very general terms. I was
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left with the impression that he did not do much work during this period (1903-14) because so little is included. The pace of the novel is very slow, dwelling at great length on Mayma's self-justification for leaving her husband and children to live with Wright. She touches on the women's movement during this period but, again, only superficially. Surprisingly, the ending was more satisfying than I expected. Mayma reached a great degree of self awareness that had a ring of truth.
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LibraryThing member magnoliafinch
Started slow but ends with a big bang. Hang in there.
LibraryThing member zina
amazing fictionalized history of the woman who left her husband for Frank Lloyd Wright - well-written
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Let me say from the outset I wasn't completely in love with the novel's two main characters, Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright. I found both of them to be at times annoyingly self-important and self-indulgent with this latter weakness in particular leading to the hurt of many important
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people in their lives. But despite not being totally into the characters, I was engrossed by the book. Horan writes superbly and reading her prose is pure pleasure. While she has not written a cliffhanger per say, I found myself constantly on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what would happen next. Moreover, this book left me with what truly good art should leave you with: a desire to know more. I can't wait to research more into Frank Lloyd Wright's life and architectural work and Mamah Borthwick's history and translation work.
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LibraryThing member GaltJ
I am stunned by the ending of this book - I just didn't know! I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. Mamah's life and her pursuit of living her life to the fullest amazed me. The Woman's and Suffragette movement keeps sneaking up on me in books and I am fascinated by the stories of these
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brave women. I had some trouble with how easily she left her children behind, over and over again. She was really a woman who should not have had children in the first place.
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LibraryThing member bibliophileofalls
Loving Frank was a revealing look at the genius that was Frank Lloyd Wright but also exposed the very human flaws he had. It was a love story that I felt dragged a bit in the middle but had a very dramatic conclusion. The author had obviously done a lot of research and integrated it nicely into
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this first novel.
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LibraryThing member LivelyLady
Wonderful unabridged 12 disc audio of this book. Part historical fact and part fiction of the love affair between architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mamah Cheney. They were both married at the time and while Frank did not seek a divorce, Mamah did, which says something about her progressive nature
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around 1910. This book is rich in ideas for a book group discussion. After listening to this book, I went to the library to check out books with pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright's homes that he had built. I highly recommend LOVING FRANK.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
I wanted to like this book. The author took seven years to research the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and his long-term lover Mameh Borthwick Cheney.

I wanted to like this book because the writing was stellar and the subject matter fascinating.

But, I simply could not enjoy the tale of two very self
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absorbed, selfish lovers who left their respective spouses and a total of nine children.

Set in the early 1900's, Mameh was the wife of one of Frank's clients. She fell in love because she simply was "not fulfilled", "not happy". Poor Mameh, living a life of a rich papered lady. Alas, she had so many luxuries and the time for self absorption that many lessor folk on the hierarchy of life did not.

Frank, was by all accounts a cad, reckless in his spending and womanizing, he used more people than the houses he built.

In the end, I could not love Frank...or Mameh.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
i think the quote from goethe on the first page of this novel really sums up the book: "One lives but once in the world." i loved this book and the emphasis it put on true love and happiness, women's rights and the importance of freedom. two powerful lines from the book:

"I have been standing on the
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side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current."

"only true love is free love."
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LibraryThing member crazy4novels
I finished reading Nancy Horan's "Loving Frank" two days ago and I'd like to give the novel a qualified thumbs up. Why the qualification? Let me explain.

A novel that is loosely historical and extremely well written can be highly successful. The book's page-turning story captivates readers, who
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learn a little about the time period involved without concerning themselves with the literal accuracy of each event and conversation that is articulated from page to page. Horan's novel, however, is more than "loosely historical." Horan is a journalist by trade, and the book smacks of fact-based veritas. As for her writing, it's solid, but I wouldn't rate it as an exceptional piece of literary prose.

Ultimately, therefore, "Loving Frank" ends up in the land of "genre limbo." You pick up the book because you want to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Mamah (pronounced May-muh) Cheney, but the book isn't really a biography -- it's marketed as fiction heavily interspersed with facts (but which is which?). Conversely, if the book is truly a work of literary fiction, you expect more writing skill from the author. (You don't expect an official biography to be filled with lush prose or page-turning sizzle, but you do expect such characteristics to be present in outstanding fiction.)

Nonetheless, I recommend Horan's book for the insight it provides into the societal restrictions, changing mores and competing lifestyles that were fighting for legitimacy at the beginning of the 20th century.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
This is a wondeful 1st novel about the life of the woman who was the main love interest in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. She was an intelligent, well educated historian and writer and her story tells us much about the character of this brilliant man. It also tells us much about the women's
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movement in those days prior to the vote and the strictures of an intelligent women in upper class America. Having left her husband and children to pursue her career and live with the man for whom she had a great passion Mamay lost everything. She was an immoral woman, not fit for society, or fit to have more than fleeting visits with her children. This is also a great story and it is not boring although a very literate read. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
What an amazing debut novel! This piece of historical fiction is engaging and thought provoking in numerous ways: as a love story, as an illumination of the social climate in the early 1900s in both the United States and Europe, as an introduction to the art and philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright, as
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an introduction to the theories and beliefs of Ellen Key, and as a means to acquiring insight into the heart of a woman and the consequences to life choices she made which kept her perpetually swimming upstream. Shocking ending..........Read it!
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LibraryThing member emitnick
Mamah Cheney left her husband and two children to travel and live with Frank Lloyd Wright, the love of her life. This is a fictional account of the relationship, based on real events. Mamah is a true modern woman, frustrated by the strictures of her society, and she is fascinating to read about.
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Wright comes across as brilliant but somewhat difficult. The ending is a shocker and truy horrifying - again, it's based on true events.
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LibraryThing member lizhawk
Interesting account of a complicated story, midst Wright's fame and concurrent social & cultural mores. Shocking ending -- I had no idea.
LibraryThing member poolays
My Dad was an architect and my Mom and Grandmother were feminist,s although they never used that term. So I grew up on feminism and Frank Lloyd Wright.
I listened to this book on CD while commuting over a couple of weeks. I really enjoyed it. Although it isn't about Frank Lloyd Wright's
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architecture, there is frequent discussion of his ideas. I had some Aha! moments. and I found it particularly interesting to hear about feminism in the early 20th century, and not just the suffrage movement. Mostly the discussion centers on a woman's role related to family and self.
Interesting to note that not much has changed.
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LibraryThing member lorin77
I thought this was a very good book about someone I knew very little about, Mamah Borthwick. As someone who has studied architectural history, I knew the bare bones of the story, so I knew the ending, but that was all I knew about this remarkable woman. Very interesting subject material. And it was
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nice to see a side of FLW that wasn't so... Fountainhead.

As a side note, I was impressed, too, by how closely (it seems) the author kept to the facts of the story. I enjoy historical fiction, but it annoys me when an author takes too many liberties with the historical record. Good show to Nancy Horan for telling a story well and telling it how it (probably) happened.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
Historical fiction set in the early 1900's about Frank Lloyd Wright and his lover, Mamah Cheney, a feminist. She leaves her family for FLW and struggles with that and with society's view of her. Most of the book is told from her POV and she tries to balance her love of her children, her man and her
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
As a Frank Lloyd Wright aficionado, I looked forward to reading this twist-filled tale of his extra-marital relations. Horan does an admirable job giving some historical context to this drama. But I would have structured the tome a bit differently. It gets off to woefully slow start, and I think
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this deficiency could have been easily rectified. Instead of telling this story in a straight chronological fashion, I would have tried to -- at least in a subtle way -- foreshadow some of the gut-wrenching drama that fills the final chapters much earlier. A bit of creative structuring could have made this fine book more compelling in the earlier dry chapters. But overall, "Loving Frank" is a well-written work.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
I thoroughly enjoyed Loving Frank, due on great part to living in the area where it takes place. I thought the portrayal of Frank Lloyd Wright was a bit sensationalized and certainly painted him in a light where he could do no wrong, which I found a bit annoying. That said, that was "early Frank"
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and the author does shed some ideas on why he turned out so jaded and self-centered. Every move he and Mamah made was slapped on the front pages of the newpapers and fodder for hatred and gossip. Mamah is one of the most interesting females of the time I have ever read about. You do have to have some interest in architecture, specifically "organic" architecture, to enjoy this novel ... as the process is a character in itself. Overall, excellent, thought-provoking (especially when you consider the time) and at the end, harrowing. I found it a fast, enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
Having little prior knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright, I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. The historical fiction story is based on the real-life love affair between acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick, a scholar and feminist. Both individuals gave up their marriages
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for each other, and the effects of this decistion are felt throughout their lives, leading to a disturbing and tragic climax. The narrative brings to light many interesting and liberal ideas on sex, marriage, and love, all of which are based on the writings of Ellen Key, a friend of Mamah. The problem I had with the story is that I missed what drew Mamah to FLW; I don't think the author clearly illustrated WHY she would give up her marriage and abandon her children for this man, so I was unable to empathize with her and her choices. The treatment of the couple by those they encountered was horrible at times, but based on the actions of the two, I did not find it surprising, and it was tough to feel sorry for them. I enjoyed the historical portion of the narrative, that which dealt with FLW and his work, to be extremely fascinating, but the remainder of the story was slow paced and a bit disappointing.
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LibraryThing member SplAgentsDandJ
With a new interest in the architectural styles of FLW and the future plans to visit a few of his famous places, I wanted to learn more about FLW, the man and his life. My search lead to Loving Frank, a novel that held my attention throughout the entire book. I had no prior knowledge of this love
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affair nor the twists Frank and Mamah's relationship would take. The book focuses on Mamah's personal struggles to be the woman, educated and obviously not a typical woman of her times, deep inside herself. Frequently in their relationship, Frank's mood swings were more than I wanted Mamah to endure and his infrequent displays of affection left me wanting more for her but these times were counteracted with the times that Frank relied on her to keep him anchored in his work and life. Mamah was a profound influence on Frank. I can truly appreciate their love for each other though. The tragic ending came as a complete shock to me. -- SA Desiré
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