Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review - Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan

Title: Loving Frank
Author: Nancy Horan    
Year: 2008  
Page: 400  
Genre: Fiction - Historical    

New to me author? Yes    
Read this author again? Not sure
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? Yes  
FTC Disclosure: Library bookclub bag  

Summary (from
Horan's ambitious first novel is a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright's first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century. Frank and Mamah, both married and with children, met when Mamah's husband, Edwin, commissioned Frank to design a house. Their affair became the stuff of headlines when they left their families to live and travel together, going first to Germany, where Mamah found rewarding work doing scholarly translations of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books. Frank and Mamah eventually settled in Wisconsin, where they were hounded by a scandal-hungry press, with tragic repercussions. Horan puts considerable effort into recreating Frank's vibrant, overwhelming personality, but her primary interest is in Mamah, who pursued her intellectual interests and love for Frank at great personal cost. As is often the case when a life story is novelized, historical fact inconveniently intrudes: Mamah's life is cut short in the most unexpected and violent of ways, leaving the narrative to crawl toward a startlingly quiet conclusion. Nevertheless, this spirited novel brings Mamah the attention she deserves as an intellectual and feminist.

First Sentence:  
It was Edwin who wanted to build a new house.

Why did I pick this book?    

April book club pick. While it is not a book I'd have picked on my own, I was looking forward to it as I love Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture (not that I know a lot about it, but just remember I like what I saw in pictures.)

My thoughts:
  • It is hard for me to rate this book, so in the end I just gave it a 2.5 stars /  just okay / meh to me
  • Before I forget, the main female lead (FLW's mistress)'s name is Mamah - pronounced May-mah. I kept thinking it's ma-ma.
  • The reason I was conflicted on how to rate this book - on one hand, I like that the author took little pieces of history (that wasn't a lot about Mamah) and created a plausible story out of it, and I totally didn't see the ending coming (a historically true event, but I just didn't know about it - so if you plan to read this book, don't read about FLW on wikipedia!). The writing is a little slow though and I think the book could have been shorter (probably didn't help that the font was VERY SMALL - I wear glasses and in my early 30's but man, why couldn't they use a bigger font so people would at least won't be put off by it! That seriously was my first reaction when I opened the book). Anyway, on the other hand, I did NOT like the main characters, namely FLW and Mamah, AT ALL. While I am still amazed by FLW's artistic vision, I wouldn't want to live with him - he thought silverware was cluttered on a set table at meal time, until he was ready to use them! As for Mamah, there were decisions she made regarding her children that I just do not agree, and I don't even have children. Some may think she was a pioneer feminist, but I thought she was just selfish and self-centered. At the book club discussion, some mentioned that they made a good pair and deserved each other!
  • So it wasn't quite the epic love story I was hoping to be... not that I think a story on adultery should have been about this great love, but at least it would have made it easier to understand why she did what she did...   
  • I like the "conversation with Nancy Horan" section at the end - to learn why she decided to write the book. And I did learn a little more about FLW from this book
  •  After reading it, I want to tour his houses!!! There are 3 of them in my town, though they are not vacant I don't think... supposedly you can see 2 of them just from driving past, but I want to see the inside! May have to pay a visit to Taliesin house in Spring Green WI (the place where the book ended.) There are some other houses of his that can be rented out too for the night - might be something fun to do in the future!

"Tell her happiness is just practice," he (Edwin) said. "If only she acted happy, she would be happy." (p5)

"The measure of a man's culture is the measure of his appreciation," he (Frank) said. "We are ourselves what we appreciate and no more."

He (Frank) gestured out toward the horizon, where a clear sky bordered prairie grasses as far as the eye could see. "Eventually, I fell under the spell of the line out there. It was so simple: a huge block of blue on top of a block of gold prairie, and the quiet line between heaven and earth stretching endlessly. It felt like freedom itself to look at the horizon. I had been drunk on forms since I was a boy, and here was this simple line that expressed so much about this land." (p21)

To fare on -- fusing the self that wakes... and the self that dreams. (p88)

    Rating:   2.5 Stars

    Have you read this book? 
    If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!
    100+ Reading 


    1. I thought Mamah to be selfish too and the story dragged way too much. It wasn't an easy book to read.

      And good on you to give a heads-up not to google or search wikipedia for Mamah or FLW. I did, sadly, and didn't get that big a surprise with the ending =(

      Great review! You make some excellent points that I agree with =)

    2. I liked this book more than you and gave it a 4. It was a bit slow, but I found the whole affair intriguing, especially for when they lived. And she just seemed to not fit with her era. And the ending?! Didn't see that coming! How did we not know about that?

    3. @Kals - I agree with you about Mamah! I did google a bit, but somehow missed the part about Mamah and the ending of the book! Good thing I missed it, as that was the part I liked best since it was totally unexpected!

      @Helen - I agree that you'd think the ending would be better known! I guess I'm just a bit impatience with slow books :)

    4. Sounds like you had the same opinion as me. I was a bit more outraged at it all. I'm glad my book clubs chose ti but it was not the hit I thought it would be.

    5. @Michelle - I was hoping I'd like it more too. I did learn something new but I was expecting something totally different!