Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. Released: August 2007. Click on the cover to buy. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.
Loving Frank is a fictionalized account of the love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a married Chicago woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney; Cheney and Wright met when Wright designed a house for her and her husband Edwin. They fell in love, and Cheney eventually left her family and fled to Europe with Wright, with whom she lived for the rest of her life save for a short time apart. I liked Loving Frank. It was a little bit of a surprise for me that I liked it, but I did.
Despite being a long book, Loving Frank is a very quick read- the chapters are succinct and the action moves quickly. The writing isn't particularly dense but it is detailed and careful, and breezes along confidently. Despite Frank's position as the love of Mamah's life, neither Horan nor Mamah ultimately idealizes him. Loving Frank is not a biography and I can't say anything about the real Frank Lloyd Wright but this fictional one is a deeply flawed man. He is arrogant, impecunious and irresponsible both with himself and with Mamah, though Horan also takes pains to show their relationship as rich and loving and sincere.
What made Loving Frank a good read for me was Mamah- Frank Lloyd Wright is the hook that probably got Loving Frank all the attention it's (rightly) been getting, but it's Mamah's story. I was bothered at the beginning as Horan portrayed Mamah as what seemed to be just another repressed housewife, married to a nice-but-dull-guy, unsatisfied, unfulfilled. We've all read that story before. I actually threw the book down a few chapters in because it just seemed a little stale. But I picked it up again and what won me over was Mamah's intelligence and drive, and her perseverance and struggle to carve out a life for herself after it seems like she's lost everything, as well as Horan's honesty and the way she challenges Mamah to accept responsibility for her choices. Horan also gives Mamah the heart to feel remorse and regret and to have an honest and loving relationship with her partner, despite the challenges. And Horan makes her so very likable and sympathetic as a woman trying to make a meaningful life for herself. I rooted for her and rejoiced a little in the slow progress of her growing confidence, personally and as a blossoming intellectual and feminist.
The ending caught me off guard but then how else could it have happened? You'll understand once you read it. Horan did an excellent job building the tension in the chapters leading up to what happens but it is jarring nonetheless.
Overall I enjoyed Loving Frank. Not the best love story ever but an enjoyable, convincing portrayal of a flawed, likable woman struggling for the freedoms and choices that many women struggle for, even today, and coming to a tragic end at what should have been the best time of her life. It was a very satisfying read, definitely the kind of book you can stay up all night with.
See also: LovingFrank.com, official website of the book; Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney on Wikipedia. But don't read the Wikipedia entries unless you want spoilers!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.