Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
This book surprised me. I liked it far more than I expected. It’s a fictionalized account of the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. It’s written in the third person with the narrative voice mostly focusing on Mamah, seeking to understand why a woman at the beginning of the 20th century would leave a wealthy and loving husband and two young children to live with a married lover. It’s most definitely not a romance novel; more a novel about a woman whose life was smaller than her spirit, who was no longer able talk to her husband about the ideas and issues that brought her alive—and who found in Frank Lloyd Wright—the architect who designed her house and whose name was not yet universally recognized—a kindred soul.
The author has talked extensively about her writing process. She became interested in Mamah after touring the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in
In 1909 Mamah asked her husband for a divorce and took her children on an extended summer vacation to visit a friend in
The story ends tragically—history demanded that. I did some Internet searching on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and discovered it before I finished the book. I had to put it down awhile to process what I knew was going to happen. (Usually I don’t mind “spoilers” but for some reason this one threw me for a loop.)
I’d say Horan’s achievement in this novel is considerable. The issues Mamah faced, not only legal and moral restrictions on woman, the scorn of American society and excoriation by the press, but practical issues of how to balance loving and caring for children with one’s own needs, issues of how woman are blamed for marital irregularities far more than men, from whom some straying is almost expected. I thought the character of Mamah, while idealized to a certain extent, was extremely well rendered and Wright, appropriately, left more in the background except in so far to be made a convincing partner for such a woman.