Loving Frank by Nancy Horan


This past Christmas my mother decided to try something new.  She bought thirteen books from her bookstore, put them all in a bag and on Christmas day, after presents were all opened, she passed the bag around and told everyone to pick a book.  We could choose whichever book we wanted, it didn’t really matter since theoretically we’ll each end up reading all of them anyway.  Once we’re done with a book we are supposed to write a quick note in the back about what we thought and give it a 1-6 rating.  (1-6 so that someone can’t be lame and just rate a 3, not saying if they liked it or not.)  Then you’re supposed to trade with someone or see what’s been returned to the bag and pick another book.  The hope is that everyone will read most (if not all) of the books and next year at the Thanksgiving dinner table we’ll be able to sit around and talk about them.  It seems that she did a pretty good job putting together a varied collection and I thought I’d include those titles as I read them over the next few months.  One of the books I’ve already read and reviewed — Three Cups of Tea — and in my notation in the back I gave it a rating of 5.  Loving Frank was the first book I pulled out of the bag and I gave it a score of 4.5.

Loving Frank is a work of historical fiction based upon the true facts of the love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney in the early 1900s told from Mamah’s point of view. 

Succinctly:  I loved the book.  It pushed all of the right buttons for me.  It was a detailed and interesting period piece, it was about architectural history and it was a good love story (passionate and compelling but not mushy).  I credit my enjoyment of the book largely to Horan’s ability to build a complete framework of historic facts around which to flesh out her story.  Whenever possible she used factual details, even including excerpts from real letters, newspaper articles and lectures.  The interview with the author at the end of the book goes into greater depth regarding her research and sources and her excitement at discovering the existence of letters written by Mamah Borthwick to her friend and colleague, Ellen Key, essentially giving Mamah a true voice and personality.

A main theme in the novel is the Woman Movement (as it was then called).  Mamah is an active supporter of the movement, even prior to the starting point of the novel.  We see how her views of gender equality effect her decision to leave her family to be with Frank.  Through the years she challenges and modifies her own ideas regarding the roles of women.  As a character, Mamah changes and becomes more fulfilled, though the fulfilment comes at a price.

The novel is perfectly written.  I couldn’t put it down.  (Though I guess it’s not the type of book that would usually be considered a page-turner.)  Horan’s early 20th century world is so textured and artistically visceral that it’s very easy to become immersed.  I certainly hope this will not be Horan’s last. 

And then there’s the ending…

If you have any intention of reading this book and do not yet know the facts surrounding this portion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life I’d strongly discourage you from doing any research about it until afterward so that the ending can be just as tragic and surprising as it likely was when it actually occurred in 1914.  The ending definitely shocked me, and again, I give credit to Horan’s storytelling.  She refrained from overindulging in foreshadowing as authors are often wont to do.  It was a complete surprise.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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