Thursday, October 6, 2011

Loving Frank - Nancy Horan (Audio)

"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                 
     

23 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I read this book pre-blogging days and enjoyed it, but I have to say I wasn't very fond of Frank or Mamah. Like you, I had to do some research afterward to see what was true and I was shocked!

Jenny said...

Now I'm curious about what happens! I know nothing about him or his life either.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Living in Madison, Wisconsin for many years, Frank Lloyd Wright was just part of the local scene, so we "knew" him pretty well. No matter what one thought of his personal behavior, one couldn't help but be awed by the buildings he made, many of which were in the Madison area.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I've heard very good things about this but haven't had a chance to pick it up. Thanks for the beautiful review.

Meg said...

I went ahead and spoiled the story for myself after reading your review, and holy crap. This one has been on my radar for a while, but I'm a little nervous to read it now!

Ti said...

I bought this book at a book fair at least three years ago and it is still in the bag! How horrible is that? Horrible, I know. Maybe if I took it out of the bag it would remind me endlessly, how much it wants to be read.

Darlene said...

Well I was intrigued by this novel before and even now more so. You know how I love historical fiction. I think I'm finally going to download this one and be done with it. Besides I need to know what blew you away.

reviewsbylola said...

I thought this book was phenomenal. I knew nothing about Wright or Mamah before reading this book, and I can't say that my opinion of them was favorable when I finished it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Like you, I knew almost nothing about Wright before reading this one. There story took me completely by surprised. I was caught up in the "human" side of things and the ending just completely shocked me. After reading it I visited his home, Taliesin, while I was in Wisconsin and I couldn't stop thinking about the book while I was there.

Alyce said...

I have heard good things about this one and almost picked it up from borders on sale, but had other books that were higher on my list.

I hate tech issues with audios. Sometimes the online audio service that my library uses has problems that causes the tracks to only play about halfway through (and each track is over an hour long, so missing a half hour of the book is a big deal).

softdrink said...

I've avaoided this one for a long time, because unlike you, I'm not a big fan of the fictionalized historical person. But...I keep hearing such good things about the book! Maybe I just need to pretend Frank never existed in real life?

Linda said...

There are a few books about FLW that I'd to read. This is one of them. I don't think I'll wait too long to pick it up.

Zibilee said...

I remember that you were in the middle of this audio a few weeks ago, and I am glad to hear that you ended up being surprised by the ending, but now I want to know what the twist was! It sounds like Horan did a really great job writing compellingly from Mamah's point of view, which is something that intrigues me about this book. I admit that without having heard you talk about this book or having read your review, I probably would have had little interest in reading this one, but now it's going right on the list!

heidenkind said...

I bought this book for my mom because she loves FLW. He was such a character and so interesting.

As for the end, if it's what I think it is, then yeah. Pretty shocking and bizarre, no? There's a documentary about it that I think you can get from PBS.

Marie said...

I didn't know the ending when I started this book and it really shocked me, what happens to her. But it was a good book and I loved Mamah. I thought Horan's portrayal of her was pretty balanced as far as her being a very whole person, if htat makes sense! Great review, Sandy!

Jenners said...

This is probably not one I would pick up on my own but you're making me consider it.

JoAnn said...

I enjoy fictionalized accounts of real historical figures, too (most recently The Paris Wife), but don't know much about Wright. This has come up as a book club possibility a couple of times, but I'm more inclined to read T.C. Boyle's The Women first... especially since it's on my shelf.

Julie P. said...

We read this one for my book club a few years ago. Ms. Horan actually called in and discussed the book with us. She was lovely and her research and knowledge were amazing.

Jo-Jo said...

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this. I just picked this one up at a used book store a month or so ago, but just haven't been able to get started on it yet.

Beth F said...

I've had this one sitting on my mp3 for a couple of years. (Do you spot a theme?) Perhaps owning 4 mp3 players stuffed full of audiobooks is a bit much. I should work my way through them. Ha!

Amy said...

I think most readers feel the same way about historical fiction - that the story told is a fairly legitimate account of what really happened. I was curious if you would address this issue in your review and I am so happy you did and also happy that this is basically a story about Frank Lloyd Wright. (I just reada historical fiction book that is more fantasy than fact, the first time I've encountered that, hence my interests in whether or not this book is factual!)

I completely enjoyed your review, Sandy and after frequently considering reading this book and never picking it upo, I now know I want to read it for sure!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I bought this book when my neighborhood book group read it ... but ... I had a schedule conflict and knew I wouldn't be able to get to book group. ... so ... never read the book :(

Sounds like I ought to pick it up off the shelf! (which is a step past out of the bag, Ti!)

Melissa said...

This is one of those books where I recognize the cover, feel like everyone has read it, but I never felt compelled to pick it up. You've got me interested though!