by Nancy Horan
“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.
So the audio book I listened to is an abridged version of the novel Loving Frank, and frankly the chopping seemed haphazard and sloppy. It's really obvious when a scene was cut, because the narrative will suddenly jump forward several years or to a different location.
Frank Lloyd Wright's difficult and domineering personality shines through here; he's about as far from a perfect dream lover as you can get. He seems to care little for how his actions affect others, even claiming at one point that "Great men shouldn't be bound by rules" like normal men. He's arrogant, insufferably so. Sure, he's talented - no one denies it now - but it's hard to see what Mamah found so attractive about the man.
Her dissatisfaction with her husband is also puzzling. Edwin is attentive and devoted, and seems to give her a decent amount of freedom to do as she pleases. She, at least, felt regret for how her selfish actions affected her kids...FLW didn't. But all it took was a feminist tract that justified her actions and bam! Mamah feels better.
Oh! So Mamah is very smart. No one denies it. She has a master's degree in languages. Yet whenever it comes to a matter of taste she seems to defer to FLW. Why? Can't she trust her own judgment? I mean, the guy dropped out of school, whereas she excelled at academics. Have a little faith in your own process, woman!
Oh well. I didn't find either character compelling, and I doubt I could have sat through the full 12-disk version of this book.
Can I get a little SPOILERIFFIC here?
So, I know a little bit about Frank Lloyd Wright's life since we studied him in my Modern Art class, so I knew how this book would end. I wondered how the author would do it, since the main character's life ends in a tragic and gruesome murder. Hogan's choice to switch the narrative to Wright's POV didn't work very well, simply because the entire preceding story was from Mamah's POV. It's jarring.
2.5 out of 5 stars