Book Review: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank brings to life the story of a true life affair between well-to-do Mamah Cheney and renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1900’s. Nancy Horan explores the story from Mamah’s perspective and accounts for the difficult decisions and mixed emotions involved in leaving a comfortable life with her husband and young children for the defiant and self-declared genius Frank.

Mamah’s story crosses many settings, complimenting the sense of journey that her relationship with Frank travels through. Frank and Mamah are first drawn to each other in the comfortable Chicago suburb of Oak Park. Fleeing to Berlin, Mamah encounters the first wave of critical scrutiny from the press but also finds more liberal attitudes and glimpses the possibility of fulfillment through translating the works of her “beloved lady” Ellen Keys.The classical backdrop if Italy presents Mamah’s desire for a romantic and idyllic outcome to her situation. Ultimately the couple moves to Wisconsin, the place of Frank’s childhood, where his early influences and larger than life personality are explored more fully. As cracks appear between them the reader is consoled by signs of repair in Mamah’s family relationships. However, a startling turn of events swiftly brings the reader out of any comfort zone.

Loving Frank hits the odd feminist note; Mamah contemplates the women’s suffrage movement and struggles to find balance between the expectations society places on her and her pursuit of personal happiness. She is particularly drawn to the feminist texts of Ellen Keys, in whose words she finds justification for her relationship with Frank. But whilst Horan portrays her dilemma sympathetically, the picture that comes across is that of a woman influenced by strong personalities, striving for meaning to her life by aligning herself to the great works of others and searching to justify the hurt she has caused her family.

Loving Frank will satisfy readers of historical novels in that Horan is true to historical events and uses real newspaper extracts. The novel is informative of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architectural style and the context within which it was introduced. Nevertheless, it is striking by how timeless this story is; today we still love a celebrity scandal and we still tend to judge women who leave their children more harshly than men. This book is for you if you want a sensational story that probes deeper questions about duty versus personal fulfillment. Horan’s writing is simplistic in style and has appealing readability. However, the strength of this book is really delivered by Frank Lloyd Wright’s pompous but charismatic personality.

 

Review by Cecilia Hunt.