Summary and book reviews of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank

A Novel

By Nancy Horan

Loving Frank
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Aug 2007,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2008,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.

Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan’s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world. Mamah’s is an unforgettable journey marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility, leading inexorably ultimately lead to this novel’s stunning conclusion.

Elegantly written and remarkably rich in detail, Loving Frank is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman, a national icon, and their timeless love story.

1907

Chapter 1

Mamah Cheney sidled up to the Studebaker and put her hand sideways on the crank. She had started the thing a hundred times before, but she still heard Edwin’s words whenever she grabbed on to the handle. Leave your thumb out. If you don’t, the crank can fly back and take your thumb right off. She churned with a fury now, but no sputter came from beneath the car’s hood. Crunching across old snow to the driver’s side, she checked the throttle and ignition, then returned to the handle and cranked again. Still nothing. A few teasing snowflakes floated under her hat rim and onto her face. She studied the sky, then set out from her house on foot toward the library.

It was a bitterly cold end-of-March day, and Chicago Avenue was a river of frozen slush. Mamah navigated her way through steaming horse droppings, the hem of her black coat lifted high. Three blocks west, at Oak Park Avenue, she leaped onto the wooden sidewalk and hurried south as the wet ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you think that Mamah is right to leave her husband and children in order to pursue her personal growth and the relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright? Is she being selfish to put her own happiness and fulfillment first?

  2. Why do you think the author, Nancy Horan, gave her novel the title Loving Frank? Does this title work against the feminist message of the novel? Is there a feminist message?

  3. Do you think that a woman today who made the choices that Mamah makes would receive a more sympathetic or understanding hearing from the media and the general public?

  4. If Mamah were alive today, would she be satisfied with the progress women have achieved or would she believe there was still a long way to go?

  5. In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Despite having "bodice-ripping" potential, Loving Frank is most firmly a novel grounded in research, not a 'romance'. Of course, the love affair between Mamah and Frank is central to the story, but Loving Frank is first and foremost the story of Mamah's life, and although the relationship between her and Frank is interesting, it is the exploration of her character and the period details that impact her life that keep the reader enthralled, as she struggles to reconcile her need to be with Frank, her need to be with her children and perhaps most powerful of all, her need to discover who she is herself.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (626 words).

Media Reviews
The New Yorker

In her first novel, Horan, viewing the relationship from Mamah’s perspective, does well to avoid serving up a bodice-ripper for the smart set. If anything, she cleaves too faithfully to the sources, occasionally giving her story the feel of a dissertation masquerading as a novel.

The Washington Post - Meg Wolitzer

In writing about tenderness between lovers or describing a physical setting, she uses prose that is is knowing and natural.

New York Times

If Loving Frank begins dutifully, it takes on the impact of truly artful fiction when all these forces come into play.

Publishers Weekly

This spirited novel brings Mamah the attention she deserves as an intellectual and feminist.

Library Journal - Kathy Piehl

The plot, characters, and ideas meld into a novel that will be a treat for fans of historical fiction but should not be pigeonholed in a genre section.

Author Blurb Scott Turow
This graceful, assured first novel tells the remarkable story of the long-lived affair between Frank Lloyd Wright, a passionate and impossible figure, and Mamah Cheney, a married woman whom Wright beguiled and led beyond the restraint of convention. It is engrossing, provocative reading.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Berg
I admire this novel, adore this novel, for so many reasons: The intelligence and lyricism of the prose. The attention to period detail. The epic proportions of this most fascinating love story. Mamah Cheney has been in my head and heart and soul since reading this book; I doubt she’ll ever leave.

Author Blurb Jane Hamilton
It takes great courage to write a novel about historical people, and in particular to give voice to someone as mythic as Frank Lloyd Wright. This beautifully written novel about Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair is vivid and intelligent, unsentimental and compassionate.

Reader Reviews
Lynn

Wow -- what an ending!
Really enjoyed learning more about this time in history and some personal history about Frank Lloyd Wright. The ending is so powerful that weeks later, I am still thinking about this book.

Judy Krueger

Woman Behaves Badly
From 1907 to 1914, Frank Lloyd Wright carried on a love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. They were both married to others when the affair began and it caused a great scandal in Chicago as well as around the country. Having always been an admirer ...   Read More

geoffrey paterson

loving the book
This is certainly one of the books that I have read recently that stays in the memory long after the last page has been turned. I think that Nancy Horan has done an outstanding job of placing the reader almost in attendance observing the wild and ...   Read More

B Hansen

Loving Frank
This was a great read!! The story and characters are engaging and the story is a nice mix of fact and fiction. It is the type of book you find yourself thinking about long after you have finished reading it. Highly recommended.

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Beyond the Book

A pictorial tour through the life and works of Frank Lloyd Wright including buildings and people mentioned in Loving Frank and (to throw you off the scent) a few that aren't!

All links open in new windows so close the window to return to this ezine

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