Loving Frank

Loving Frank

by Nancy Horan

Debbie Weiss: I, like Gail, am not a big fan of historical fiction. However, I really enjoyed "Loving Frank." The book's title is a bit misleading because the main character is Mamah Borthwick Cheney and not Frank Lloyd Wright. We follow Mamah through the various stages of her adult life.

First we see her in a comfortable, affluent setting with her husband Edward and her children John and Martha. Next we see the weaknesses of the marriage and the attraction that Mamah has for Frank, the architect building a new home for her family. Soon we accept her decision to leave the family to follow the man she truly loves.

I was unable to comprehend how a mother could leave her very young children but the author tries to help the reader understand Mamah's logic. To me it seemed totally selfish. To Mamah, she was doing what was best for everyone involved because nobody would thrive if she were miserable and could not fulfill her dreams and desires.  This kind of thinking was totally unheard of in the early 20th century and made Mamah Borthwick a social pariah.  Since I very much liked Mamah, I tried to believe that she truly believed that her actions were in the best interest of the children.  I definitely do recommend this book.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid: I can't say I really like historical fiction. That gray area between the truth and fantasy always leaves me wondering what to believe. I approached our book club selection "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan with mixed emotion.

"Loving Frank" is the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, an upper class Chicago woman, who leaves her husband and children to pursue a love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of her Oak Park home. The book delves into the personality of Mamah and her role in the early rights of women during the first decade of the twentieth century. A well educated teacher and linguist, she is committed to personal growth and self-actualization. Convinced that her children will not flourish amidst her unhappy marriage to Edwin Cheney, she follows the iconoclastic Frank Lloyd Wright throughout Europe. Their stay in Italy cements their relationship as well as impacts Wright's architectural style. Upon their scandalous return to the U.S., Wright builds Taliesin in rural Wisconsin for Mamah and realizes his goal of incorporating nature into building.

I was relieved to learn at book group that the story is factually based but the emotions attributed to Mamah and Frank are the author's clever creation. The book is slow in parts but never ponderous. The excellent writing and the uniqueness of the characters move the story along nicely. This book was a great opportunity to learn about Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural vision; his pioneering efforts at blending nature and modern architecture; and the level of self-absorption and narcissism with which he pursued everything. I also learned about the early days of the woman's movement which was more than just about equal wages and the vote. Mamah Borthwick Cheney was the U.S. translator for the Scandinavian feminist Ellen Key. All in all, my book group ended up "Loving Frank".
Rating: ****

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