Fact and fiction blend in a historical novel that chronicles the relationship between seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, from their meeting, when they were each married to another, to the clandestine affair that shocked Chicago society.
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.
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 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.
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.
"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."
"only true love is free love."
A novel that is loosely historical and extremely well written can be highly successful. The book's page-turning story captivates readers, who 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.
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 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.
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.