four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Nancy Horan
user_rating: 
0

A-Loving FrankWhen Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s husband commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the couple’s home in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1903, Mamah and Frank began a scandalous, clandestine affair that rocked American society. Both married and with children, they abandoned their families in 1909 to live in Germany, where Mamah, a burgeoning women’s rights advocate, translated Swedish feminist Ellen Key’s books and profoundly affected her lover’s architecture. When they returned from Europe and settled in Wisconsin, where Frank was building Taliesin, they found themselves at odds with society, and their love affair, begun so idealistically, ended in tragedy.
Ballantine. 362 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0345494997

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Many readers will be drawn to the premise of Loving Frank because of the title character’s fame and his reputation as a man who would ‘rather be honestly arrogant than hypocritically humble.’ … Yet if Frank Lloyd Wright is the reason people will pick up this book, Mamah Borthwick is the reason they will keep reading it." Jessica Treadway

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Horan isn’t interested in a ‘true love conquers all’ kind of tale, but instead an exploration of the human costs of moving outside society’s rules—especially for an intelligent woman living at a time when women were classed, for legal purposes, with the insane. … And she doesn’t skim over Cheney’s (and especially Wright’s) flaws." Yvonne Zipp

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"If Loving Frank begins dutifully, it takes on the impact of truly artful fiction. … In the end it shows how Mamah and Frank faced dangers more deep-seated than a murderous accident of fate." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"The real fun here, however, comes from understanding how Horan pieced it all together. … All in all, an amazing achievement and a rewarding read on many levels." Larry Brooks

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Horan doesn’t seem unduly constrained by the parameters of hard fact, and for long stretches her novel is engaging and exciting. … The novel belongs to the feminist genre not only in its depiction of a woman’s conflicting desires for love and motherhood and a central role in society, but also through its sophisticated—and welcome—focus on the topic of feminism itself." Meg Wolitzer

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"One of Horan’s achievements is how effectively she intertwines Mamah’s evolution with the era’s social change. Her style, unfortunately, isn’t as elegant as her subjects." Carlo Wolff

Critical Summary

Frank Lloyd Wright never once mentioned Mamah Cheney in his letters or autobiography; still, Nancy Horan managed to extrapolate the love affair from newspaper accounts and Mamah’s letters to Ellen Key. If Loving Frank didn’t hew so closely to the facts, it would read almost like a bodice ripper. Instead, it realistically depicts the opportunities and repercussions of individuals living outside of society’s mores and captures the cultural and artistic philosophies of the time. While Horan reveals Wright’s hubris and Mamah’s intellectual selfishness, the critics, strangely enough, find both endearing. If their love affair carries a "whiff of the Hallmark section" (Christian Science Monitor) or clumsily integrates cultural icons into the narrative, these are minor complaints in this compelling story.