“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan is one of those in the ever-so-interesting genre of historical fiction. Historical fiction fascinates and perplexes me for many reasons and this book is no exception. I did enjoy certain aspects of the book but I would recommend it to readers cautiously.
“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,” writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she justifies, once again, her secret love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had hired Wright to design a new home for them. It was during this time that Mamah and the charismatic architect began to feel the sparks fly between them which caused them to embark on the love affair that would not only shock the Chicago society in which they lived but forever change their own lives.
I have always been intrigued by Frank Lloyd Wright, since my dad is an architect and we worked one of his famous creations into every family vacation possible. I knew he was seen as a genius and someone other designers looked up to and tried to emulate. I knew nothing, however, of his personal life. I had no idea he was also seen by many women as a misogynistic womanizer, home-wrecker and if this story would have taken place at a later date, he might as well have been the subject of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” Basically, as a person, he oozed charisma and power but also he was selfish, self-absorbed and every other unattractive trait that goes along with one only being concerned about their own welfare.
Nancy Horan makes Wright’s personality crystal clear as she paints the picture of his time spent with Mamah, who draws strength from the massive intelligence and artistic temperament Frank provides her. She just doesn’t feel the same connection with her husband. While I understand that women certainly didn’t have the same rights then as we do now and she wasn’t “free” perhaps to marry Frank as she pleased, that she was, in a way, “stuck” in a loveless marriage, I still couldn’t get on board with Mamah at all and empathize with her character. I didn’t relate a whole lot. I know what it’s like to feel a strong connection to someone you can never have but I guess I didn’t feel sorry for her. It just seemed to me that she milked the victim role and I think she could have tried harder in her own marriage.
Those who appreciate a great, illicit love story a la “The Bridges of Madison County” might appreciate this book. Plus, it offers a real glimpse into the life of a genius whose work is scattered across the country. That’s the thing about historical fiction, though, that kind of bothers me. I always want to know what’s true, what really happened, and what’s been embellished. It’s not like that’s ever broken down. Nevertheless, it is a mildly-entertaining read if you can get past Horan’s writing style and her portrayal of a woman who seemingly needs a man to function. Just not necessarily my cup of tea.