Loving Frank (Review)


Loving Frank
Nancy Horan, 2007
400 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
April 2008

Though engrossing and beautifully imagined, this book is disturbing. When real-life Mamah Cheney leaves her husband and children to elope with Frank Lloyd Wright, she pays a price. Throughout, one wonders: is the price too high or not high enough?

Yet author Nancy Horan doesn't ask us to judge; she simply wants to reveal how people make complicated choices and how they manage to live with their decisions.

It's easy to feel torn, identifying with Mamah (MAY-ma)—but questioning her actions. Her sudden dash to Europe with Wright leaves you both distressed and exhilarated.

Although part of me hoped, fervently, for both characters' happiness, in this case it's hard not to consider utilitarianism—an ethical system in which actions are judged according to the greatest good for the greatest number. Mamah and Frank's actions leave a wake of emotional devastation that remains hard to justify, and yet....

The two make a life together that is enviable—one of intense creativity and artistic vision. According to Horan, it was a life that inspired Wright to reach his mature genius, of which we are the lucky recipients. Yet (too many "yets" and "buts" in this review) Horan seems to imply that genius should be granted great leeway—even at the expense of others' pain. Echoes of Ayn Rand?

Read this elegant book! Read it because it's good—and because it will yield a rich, thought-provoking discussion.

See our Reading Guide for Loving Frank.

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