Saturday, August 23, 2008

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I read Loving Frank during the first week of August for my book group at the library.
Though I am aware that the book has garnered a steady buzz over the last couple of years, I don't know that I feel the book was worthy of all the nattering.
Loving Frank is the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a married woman living in the early 20th century in Chicago who falls in love with famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and leaves her husband, children and propriety to live with Wright and be his muse, as well as her own. There's a great deal of musing, commentary and discussion of women's role in society, whether women should be true to their husbands if the marriage is loveless, whether they should stay in the marriage for the sake of raising their children in a nuclear family, and whether women have the right to follow their hearts and minds to find fulfillment for their work and their souls. I realize that we're talking about 1910, a time when feminists were called sufferagists and thought to be loose women because they wanted the right to vote. Still, Horan brings up a lot of issues that women still struggle with nearly 100 years later; the whole 'work/family' balance thing, the idea that a career is important to a womans development of values and sense of self.
Still Mamah comes across as a bit too cold and intellectual, in that she seems to have no trouble leaving her children behind with her husband and her sister as she flees into the night to meet up with Wright. Of course as a wealthy woman, she had a nanny and her sister to help raise the children from birth, but I know that I would feel more than a pang of pain, guilt, etc were I to leave my son behind for even a short period of time. Mamah eventually feels remorse for not being there to watch her children grow, but it is only after she meets up with them years later and they do not know her or wish to be with her. Wright comes across as a Peter Pan kind of genius, egotistical and arrogant but childish in his needs and desires. He seems to be charming, but a rogue, a liar and the kind of man who feels its perfectly alright to cheat those he feels are beneath him in talent or intellectual ability. Like most artists, he stinks with money and can't run his business without running it into the red consistantly, and why Mamah doesn't call him on his business foibles earlier is a mystery.
Still, the book outlines Mamah and Franks life in an interesting fashion, and though the ending is chilling and awful, (one reviewer said, "Mamah's life is cut short in the most unexpected and violent of ways, forcing the novel to craw toward a startlingly quiet conclusion" in Publishers Weekly) I still enjoyed the novel and the questions it brought up about a womans place in society and marriage. It was also a refreshingly honest peek into the life of one of America's most celebrated architects.

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