Friday, July 9, 2010
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Loving Frank follows the story and love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. When they were both living in Oak Park, IL (a suburb of Chicago) Wright met Mamah while building a house for her and her family (which included a husband and two children). They fell in love and set the stage for one of the most scandalous love affairs of the turn of the century. Mamah left her family to follow Wright to Germany, and Wright left his wife and six kids to have a relationship with Mamah as well. The press were all over their affair, likening Mamah to the Whore of Babylon and Mrs. Wright the angelic victim who never lost faith in her husband.
This book tells the story from Mamah's point of view, and paints a strong woman in search of herself and her place in the world. While both of their actions were incredibly selfish in respect to their families, the book goes to lengths to describe what they meant to each other, spouting Ellen Key's philosophies of the importance of not sacrificing yourself to a loveless marriage. Mamah is a very intelligent woman, who set herself up as a translator of the same Ellen Key's works for America and went through the world with her eyes wide open. The character portrayed by Horan acknowledges the fact that Mamah knew what she was doing to her kids, and Wright's kids, but that she really believed she was doing the right thing for them all long term. Reading this book I was able to understand the point of view of the 'other woman', even though I don't necessarily agree with her actions.
This book is a wonderful glimpse into Chicago in the early 1900s and a good characterization of Frank Lloyd Wright. It also sheds light on Mamah, who in the passage of time has become more of a caricature than a real person. I highly recommend it to all historical fiction fans and lovers of Wright's amazing architecture.
Chicago in Wright's Time:
Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first 20 years of his 70-year career in Oak Park,IL building numerous homes in the community, including his own. He lived and worked in the area between 1889 and 1909. One can find Wright's earliest work there, like the Winslow House in neighboring River Forest, Illinois. There are also examples of the first prairie-style houses in Oak Park. He also designed Unity Temple, a Unitarian church, which was built between 1905 and 1908. Oak Park had just become its own city in 1902, and was vastly underdeveloped at the time of Wright's residence, surrounded by a prairie, which probably served as the inspiration for Wright's Prairie School of architecture. All of Wright's houses that he built in Oak Park still stand, and most of them are still lived in. If you ever take a trip to Chicago, go a little further west to Oak Park to see these houses, and Wright's home and studio, which has been modified into a museum. A must see for any lover of architecture.
About the Author:
Nancy Horan is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications. Loving Frank is her first novel. She lived most of her life in Oak Park, IL, until her recent move to an island in Puget Sound. She was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction in 2009.
Similar books to consider:
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Dragonwyck by Anya Seton