Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan


This was such a beautiful book, very moving, very sad. It’s one of those novels that are based on fact, about the affair between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. These two met and started a relationship around 1907 when Mamah (pronounced “may-ma”) and her husband Edwin hired Wright to design a house for them in Oak Park, IL. Shortly after the house was built Mamah and Frank each left their respective spouses and children and ran away together to Europe. It was a huge scandal in turn-of-the-century Chicago society. Wright’s business suffered for years afterwards and Mamah lost custody of her children and was ostracized by society and vilified in the press.

Despite all the adversity Wright and Borthwick (she reverted to her birth name after her divorce) had a passionate, deep, and enduring love for one another. Borthwick was a suffragette and a feminist. She worked as a translator for an influential Swedish feminist named Ellen Key who strongly influenced Borthwick’s efforts to create “an authentic life” for herself, a life that was not defined by her husband, her parents, or her children, but which was hers alone. Horan writes sympathetically of Borthwick, who endured years of emotional pain and guilt over the lack of contact with her children. Wright comes across less attractively. He was a complicated man who could be difficult to deal with. Horan does a good job of presenting him accurately while still making us understand why Mamah loved him.

The tale of Mamah and Frank has a tragic ending. People familiar with Wright and with his Wisconsin home Taliesin will know the story but maybe lots of people who read this blog post will not. I don’t want to give it away, so I won’t talk about it any more. Nancy Horan has a really nice web site with information about Wright and his architecture and photos of Borthwick, Wright, and of the houses that Wright built in Oak Park in the early 20th century, including the house he built for Mamah and Edwin. The original newspaper articles that she links to are especially interesting, though they do give away the ending, so avoid those (and also Wright’s and Borthwick’s Wikipedia pages) if you don’t want to know what happens before you finish the book.

(Book 10, 2010)

7 comments:

Amused said...

I read this book back when I was in a book club a couple of years ago and found it fascinating. I didn't know this love story and it was great for book club because Mamah made some very divisive choices! Glad you liked it.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love FLW's architecture if not his character. I've heard mixed reviews of this book, but you make me want to check it out.

Carin said...

I absolutely loved this book! Couldn't put it down, and I bawled at the end. I have now had The Women by Boyle on my TBR list for a year, but I want Loving Frank to fade from my mind more before I pick it up so they won't meld together in my head. But it's really sticking with me. I read it mroe than a year ago and it feels like just yesterday.

Connie said...

I read this book and I wasn't spoiled, and I remember tears just rolling down my face at the end. What an unexpected ending for such an unexpected couple!

I am reading TC Boyle's book on FLW which came out at the same time as Loving Frank. I hope you'll stop by and check it out, in a few weeks. :)

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

I had heard some pretty mixed reviews and so have not read this. But some of the criticism came from folks who know FLW very well, so your review suggest maybe I should take a look. From a historical standpoint, I think there are lots of loose ends about what really happened. I don't believe the accused servant was ever actually interviewed etc. Darwin Martin, a client in Buffalo NY, hired FLW and that job provided the money for Taliesin and got FLW back into business as it were. The Martin House has undergone a multi-million dollar restoration (FLW considered it his piece de resistance) and is now open for visitors. Hope to see it this summer.

Sasha said...

I saw this book in the bargain bin of a bookstore and snatched it up, as I'd read your review a few days back. Thank you, this is a great post, and I'm looking forward to settling with the book. :)

gina said...

I loved this book. I grew up near Falling Water and had always been fascinated with Wright's architecture, but I never knew the story of his marriages and relationship with Mamah. She was a fascinating person.

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