Horan takes on an ambitious subject
for her first novel and carries it off with aplomb.
Frank Lloyd Wright, possibly America's best known
architect, responsible for invigorating and shaping
the field of design for over half a century, lived a
long and controversial life, dying in 1959 at the
age of 91 having married three times and fathered
seven children, adopting an eighth.
Horan focuses on a tiny chunk of his life, his years with Mamah Borthwick Cheney (pronounced may-muh). Mamah has gone done in history as the woman who destroyed Wright's first marriage but, in Horan's hands, she is shown to be quite different to the one-dimensional 'vampire' portrayed in the newspaper headlines of the day. Extrapolating from the relatively few facts known about Mamah, Horan portrays her as a loving mother who found herself inextricably torn between her family and her love for the highly volatile, deeply self-centered Wright. An immensely intelligent, vibrant woman, Mamah was fluent in multiple languages; an early-feminist responsible for translating some of the works of the well-known Swedish feminist Ellen Key; and a key influence on Wright's life and work.
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 September 2007
This review was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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