The story told in Nancy Horan's anticipated debut, Loving Frank, is familiar to many who have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright: He left his wife, who would not grant him a divorce, for another married woman. After running away together to Europe in 1909, they returned to live in Wisconsin at Taliesin, the house that Frank built for her. Now, after all these years, we have the story from the perspective of that married woman, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
As with any well-done account of a well-known story, it is hard to tell where the facts leave off and fiction begins. Loving Frank presents a fine picture of the woman who loved Wright—the thoughts that Horan puts into Mamah's head ring true, especially those regarding Frank's wife. "Mamah had no illusions anymore that they could one day sit down and talk. Catherine would go on withholding herself, refusing to compromise, keeping Mamah an 'illicit' woman until they were all dust. The price both of them had paid for loving Frank was dear indeed."
For readers who don't have more than a passing interest in subjects such as feminism, Italy or Frank's architectural philosophies, there may be times when the narrative slows. But Horan, a former journalist who lived for 24 years in Oak Park, Illinois, near many of the architect's most famous buildings, has a fluid writing style that is likely to carry even the most reluctant reader through her story. She gives us Frank's ideals of truth and honesty in living, and imagines how they might have been shared by Mamah. Considering the era, it was an immense sacrifice for her to follow the man she loved, especially when his wife would not grant him a divorce.
It is one thing to read of Mamah's tragic end in a paragraph or two embedded in the many accomplishments of Frank Lloyd Wright. But it is quite another to read about it after feeling you've come to know her, and that is the power of this beautiful love story. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2007 June #1
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. Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 April #1
Frank Lloyd Wright, that is. First-timer Horan details the relationship between Wright and Mamah Cheney, wife of a couple lucky enough to snag him as architect of their new home. Look for a big buildup. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2007 July #1
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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/07.]--Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato[Page 78]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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. (Aug.)[Page 60]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.