"Loving Frank" was the Heathrow Literary Society's selection for October. It seemed to make sense, as just a couple of months ago we read another book taking place in the early 1900's about another artistic icon in "Clara and Mr. Tiffany". I knew it would also fall under the category of "books that might teach me something", as I knew next to nothing about Frank Lloyd Wright. I had no expectations, except that I knew people did not necessarily come away from this reading experience loving the man.
Synopsis: Most people are well aware that Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America's great architects. They may have even heard of the man's eccentricities and ego, which are assumed frailties of a creative mind. But what do we know of Mamah Cheney, Wright's lover of a half-dozen years, that was castigated for destroying his first marriage? One part love story, one part historical account of the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and 5 parts study in turn-of-the-century feminism, we are told the story through the voice of Mamah Cheney herself.
At first blush, this could be the stuff of the modern day tabloids: Famous artist and housewife abandon their spouses and children and become lovers. From Mamah's perspective, however, we are exposed to the loveless marriages, a passion that grips the soul so fervently, and the desperate need for female independence, that it is worth, to her, the highest cost.
And a high cost is paid. Not only is Wright's business and Mamah's reputation tarnished, but the media also hounded their crimeless families as well. Throughout the ordeal, though, Mamah remains steadfast in standing up for what she believes, which ultimately is Horan's tip of the hat to all the untold stories of women of this era.
My thoughts: I find that I always truly enjoy stories that are fictional accounts of historical lives, judging by how much I enjoyed "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott" or "Clara & Mr. Tiffany". These real personalities come to life for me, and it inspires in me an obsessive need to know more. My downfall is that perhaps I trust too much in the author's imagination - it is easy for me to get sucked into the drama. I always assume that there are enough solid facts peppered in there to make it a fairly legitimate account of what really happened.
So how factual is this story, really? That was the first question I asked at the end (which by the way, totally pulled the rug out from under me...what the hell?). According to articles I have read, it took Horan seven years to write this book because of all the research involved. Horan tediously tracked down correspondence, newspaper clippings, memoirs of friends and neighbors, vigilantly confining her novel within the boundaries of the facts. Therefore, disciples of Wright may go into the book knowing how it all turns out - it is a matter of record. I did not, and it knocked the wind out of me. Use that information how you will.
I was mesmerized by the spirit of Mamah and her need to be her own woman. I was mesmerized by her refusal to kowtow to the great Frank Lloyd Wright when he negligently left his bills unpaid or belittled a friend. I was mesmerized by the setting of the US and Europe in the early 1900's. Horan's words made it all come alive. Equally, I was horrified as a mother that both of these individuals would disregard their children for the sake of an affair. I realize it is what it is, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. You'd think, then, that I would have hated Wright and Mamah, but I didn't. I found them refreshingly human.
Separating the shocking true story (and its devastating effect on me) from the writing, however, I would highly recommend this book. It is a piece of feminist and architectural history that is worthy of your time.
A word about the audio production: With the exception of frustrating uploading issues (the online database did not recognize any of the 100 tracks on any of the 12 CDs), this was an excellent audio. The narrator, Joyce Bean, projected the sophistication and assurance and pain that was Mamah. While I've never listened to Joyce, she and I have been ships passing in the night it seems, because she has narrated works of Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, Karin Slaughter, Tami Hoag and Sandra Brown, all authors I have read. She has a smooth, pleasant voice and I'd be thrilled to listen to her again.
4 out of 5 stars