White Houses (Bloom)

White Houses
Amy Bloom, 2018
Random House
240 pp.

Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign.

Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, "Hick," as she’s known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor.

But then, as her connection with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a lasting love, and a life that Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as "first friend" is an open secret, as are FDR’s own lovers.

After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death.

Through it all, even as Hick’s bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.

From Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan’s Washington Square, Amy Bloom’s new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Education—B.A. Weslyan University; M.S.W. Smith College
Awards—Costa Award; National Magazine Award
Currently—lives in Connecticut, USA

Amy Bloom is an American writer best know for her 2007 novel Away. Her next novel, Lucky Us, was published in 2014. She has also penned short stories—in 1993 her collection, Come to Me, was nominated for National Book Award, and in 2000 her collection, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Bloom received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater/Political Science, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Wesleyan University, and a M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) from Smith College.

Having trained and practiced as a clinical social worker, Bloom used her psychotherapeutic background in creating the Lifetime Television network TV show, State of Mind. She is listed as creator, co-executive producer, and head writer for the series, which examines the professional lives of psychotherapists.

Bloom has also written articles in periodicals including The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon.com. Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories and several other anthologies, and has won a National Magazine Award.

Bloom has been a University Writer in Residence at Wesleyan University and before that a senior lecturer of Creative Writing in the department of English at Yale University, where she taught Advanced Fiction Writing, Writing for Television, and Writing for Children.

In August 2012, Bloom published her first children's book entitled Little Sweet Potato. According to the New York Times, the story "follows the trials of a 'lumpy, dumpy, bumpy' young tuber who is accidentally expelled from his garden patch and must find a new home. On his journey, he is castigated first by a bunch of xenophobic carrots, then by a menacing gang of vain eggplants."

Bloom resides in Connecticut. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/3/2014.)

Book Reviews
Historical fiction about "forgotten women’s lives" has become a comfortably familiar, if not always scintillating, literary form. Leave it to Amy Bloom to give the genre a swift kick in the knickers with White Houses, her irresistibly audacious re-creation of the love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena "Hick" Hickok.
USA Today

Bloom beautifully captures the affection the women felt for each other…. Cleverly structured through reminiscences that slowly build in intimacy, Bloom’s passionate novel beautifully renders the hidden love of one of America’s most guarded first ladies.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Bloom elevates this addition to the secret-lives-of-the-Roosevelts genre through elegant prose and by making Lorena Hickok a character engrossing enough to steal center stage from Eleanor Roosevelt.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. White Houses is a fictional account of relationships and events that happened from the 1930s to the ’60s. Did any historical information in the book interest or surprise you? Did you know anything about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, or FDR’s affairs before reading the book?

2. Lorena had a very difficult childhood, filled with poverty, violence, and uncertainty. Eleanor’s childhood was also fraught with violence and uncertainty, but she still had every opportunity and comfort, because she was a Roosevelt. How do you think their backgrounds affected who they became as adults, in both their personal and professional lives? Did it affect the dynamics of their relationship?

3. Lorena’s short time in the circus introduced us to many unforgettable and unique characters on the outskirts of society. Who do you think Lorena most related to? Did you relate to any of them?

4. Lorena and Eleanor shared a love that was taboo because of how people viewed sexuality at the time and Eleanor’s high-profile marriage. How do you think their love story would play out today? Do you think it would have ended differently, or the same?

5. Lorena and FDR shared a complicated relationship—he was her president and her friend, and also her lover’s husband. How did this affect Lorena’s relationship with FDR, and her relationship with Eleanor?

6. White Houses is told from Lorena’s perspective—a woman on the sidelines of history who was literally cropped out of photos. How do you think her view of history differs from how other people viewed it? How do you think Eleanor and Lorena’s story would have changed if it was told from the perspective of Eleanor, or FDR, or anyone else who worked at the White House?

7. Eleanor Roosevelt was a groundbreaking First Lady, a politician and activist in her own right, who even publically disagreed with her husband’s politics from time to time. Were you familiar with Eleanor Roosevelt’s work before this novel? Were you surprised by her politics and behavior, given the period she lived in? What could women today learn from her approach to politics?

8. Before covering the White House, Lorena established herself as a respected journalist. How does her relationship with Eleanor affect her professional aspirations? Do you agree with the decisions she makes regarding her career?
(Questions issued by the publishers.)

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