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?
A LitLovers LitPick (Apr '08)
An enthralling first novel.... A century after pathbreakers like Emma Goldman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Ellen Key struggled to raise female consciousness, there is still no satisfactory answer to the question of how a woman dedicated to her own self-expression can fulfill the tradition-bound, justly demanding needs of her children when presented with a competitor for their love. The problem Ellen Key wrestled with in her philosophy, and that Mamah could not solve in her life, had no solution in 1907 and still has none in 2007. In Loving Frank, bringing the buried truths of the ill-starred relationship of Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright to light, Horan only increases her heroine's mystery. Mamah Borthwick Cheney wasn't just any woman, but Horan makes her into an enigmatic Everywoman—a symbol of both the freedoms women yearn to have and of the consequences that may await when they try to take them.
Liesl Schillinger - New York Times Book Review
The novel belongs to the feminist genre not only in its depiction of a woman's conflicting desires for love and motherhood and a central role in society, but also through its sophisticated—and welcome—focus on the topic of feminism itself.... Loving Frank is a novel of impressive scope and ambition. Like her characters, Horan is going for something big and lasting here, and that is to be admired. In writing about tenderness between lovers or describing a physical setting, she uses prose that is is knowing and natural. At other times, she allows us a glimpse of the hand of fact guiding the hand of art, taking it places where it might not necessarily have chosen to go.
Meg Wolitzer - Washington Post
Horan's ambitious first novel is a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright's first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century. Frank and Mamah, both married and with children, met when Mamah's husband, Edwin, commissioned Frank to design a house. Their affair became the stuff of headlines when they left their families to live and travel together, going first to Germany, where Mamah found rewarding work doing scholarly translations of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books. Frank and Mamah eventually settled in Wisconsin, where they were hounded by a scandal-hungry press, with tragic repercussions. Horan puts considerable effort into recreating Frank's vibrant, overwhelming personality, but her primary interest is in Mamah, who pursued her intellectual interests and love for Frank at great personal cost. As is often the case when a life story is novelized, historical fact inconveniently intrudes: Mamah's life is cut short in the most unexpected and violent of ways, leaving the narrative to crawl toward a startlingly quiet conclusion. Nevertheless, this spirited novel brings Mamah the attention she deserves as an intellectual and feminist.
In 1904, architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house for Edwin and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, respectable members of Oak Park, IL, society. Five years later, after a clandestine affair, Frank and Mamah scandalized that society by leaving their families to live together in Europe. Stunned by the furor, Mamah wanted to stay there, particularly after she met women's rights advocate Ellen Key, who rejected conventional ideas of marriage and divorce. Eventually, Frank convinced her to return to Wisconsin, where he was building Taliesin as a home and retreat. Horan's extensive research provides substantial underpinnings for this engrossing novel, and the focus on Mamah lets readers see her attraction to the creative, flamboyant architect but also her recognition of his arrogance. Mamah's own drive to achieve something important is tinged with guilt over abandoning her children. Tentative steps toward reconciliation end in a shocking, violent conclusion that would seem melodramatic if it weren't based on true events. 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. Highly recommended.
Kathy Piehl - Library Journal
Journalist Horan's debut novel reflects her fascination with the brilliant, erratic architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his scandalous love affair with a married woman and mother of two. The book capitalizes on Horan's research into both the architect's private and professional lives. The story opens when Mamah (pronounced May-Muh) Cheney, an Oak Park, Ill., woman, and her husband Edwin, a successful local businessman, contract with Frank to build their new home. Although both Frank and Mamah are married and seem content, the architect and his female client soon find they not only like being together-they must be together. Mamah, an early feminist longing for a more meaningful life, succumbs to Frank's charms as the two enter an affair that is both physical and spiritual. Soon, their relationship is the hook for all of Oak Park's gossip. After leaving their spouses, the pair flees to Europe, finding delight in a less- disapproving continental society, as well as an outlet for their cultural pursuits. Frank, father of the "prairie style" of architecture, proves a thoughtless and irresponsible businessman, but Mamah remains by his side until the couple finally quits Europe and returns home. There, Frank builds a home they call Taliesin. Eventually, Mamah makes peace with her former husband and her two children-son John and daughter Martha-who visit her at the rural estate. However, Frank's wife, Catherine, adamantly continues her refusal to grant her husband a divorce. But just when it appears that their relationship problems have lessened, a terrible and unanticipated tragedy strikes and changes forever the lives of the two lovers who were forbidden to marry. Lovers Frank and Mamah fail to generate sympathy, and the story closes with the unsubtle reminder that real life is never quite as tidy as fiction.
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