Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Personal rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Book source: Personal copy
Book Challenge: Women Unbound (8 of 8)
November is the last month of the year for our book club meeting – we take December off for the holidays and regroup in January. We usually have a “feast” where we splurge on our post discussion treats – but I was forgetful this week and forgot to take the butter out to soften for my chocolate cranberry bars, so I had to bake “pre made” cookies instead. They were awful. Luckily the other members took it more seriously and we had a lovely spread of salads, cakes and confections.
Our final book of 2010 was Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, a fictional account of the relationship between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. After Mamah and her husband Ed commission FLW to design and build their home, Mamah and FLW begin a lurid affair that scandalizes their Chicago neighborhood community. Mamah ultimately leaves her husband and children and travels with FLW to Europe for a period of nearly two years. When they return, FLW builds a hideaway for them in Wisconsin – Taliesin – where they retreat from the vengeful eyes of the press and their respective families, but at Taliesin, they do not live happily ever after.
This was an emotionally conflicting book. On one hand you have a woman who seems completely content with her role as mother and wife. She is highly educated and is able to express her thoughts and intellect with others via her social clubs…which seemed appropriate for the turn of the century. On the other hand, you have a woman who has completely abandoned her family, absconded with her lover to Europe and continues an internal debate with herself throughout the entire novel as to whether or not she has done the right thing.
I wanted to cheer Mamah for her “independent – feminist spirit” – but the whole time my gut kept telling me how wrong it was for her to leave the way she did, and to forsake her children altogether. I certainly have bad days, and think I would like to take a long break from motherhood (cabin for a week with lots of books and food) but to leave her kids for TWO YEARS when they are but 3 and 7 – was abhorrent to me! As Lucy from Life is a spasm who flow said in her review, “is a selfish act ever the BEST act?”
In spite of all the inconsistent feelings I had towards her – I really did enjoy this book. I thought it did a great job at giving life to a relationship that has been lost to history. I loved learning about FLW’s early years as an architect. It seemed that Ms. Horan’s research was thorough and well done. And for a book group discussion, it provided LOTS of interesting discussion topics. The majority of those who were there, thought Mamah was selfish and unredeemable. But we also had harsh words for FLW who left his wife and 6 children in the process and couldn’t seem to manage his business life very well.
This was a fun book to research – I obtained from the library some of the massive picture books that contain the works of FLW. It was great to look at the places described – the Cheney home (which is now a B&B), FLW’s studio and Taliesin – while engaged in our discussion.
Ultimately, Loving Frank is a great book group discussion about a couple who made choices that had long term, disastrous, domino affects on themselves and nearly everyone around them.
For a great perspective from the author, check out this related video:
Our book club reading choices for 2011 are as follows:
January: True Grit by Charles Portis
February: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
March: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
April: Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman
May: The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent (previously read)
June: The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carlson (previously read)
July: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
August: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (previously read)
September: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
October: The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman (previously read)
November: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (previously read)