Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Loving Frank: A Review

Because this is a novel, the reader can take for granted that plenty of the details are imagined, as the author could not possibly have been privy to the conversations or situations described here, not to the extent portrayed. But I urge readers NOT to be put off by the fact that this is fiction beause it is clear that the author did her research. I found this book to be very interesting, very well written and it revealed a part of Wright's life I hadn't really known about.

Mamah Borthwick Cheney was a married woman who had an affair with Wright, also married at the time. She is credited (if "credit" is the right word) with destroying his first marriage. Anyone expecting to pick up this book and sink into an epic love story should be forewarned - this is NOT the stuff of dreamy romance novels, but the hard, gritty reality of an affair during a time when women weren't expected to break the bonds of convention. It also isn't an easy read at times, as it has some slow passages, which is the main reason I gave it a 4 rating instead of a 5.

Here is the reality behind the fiction: Cheney met Wright when she and her husband commissioned the architect to design a house for them. This is not an airy or stereotypical 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.

This is what the book focuses on, the affair between the two. But I think there is information potential readers need, information that helps to put things in deeper perspective.
For one thing, Wright's own father, a minister, had divorced his wife, citing alienation of affection even though SHE was the one who'd asked him to leave, according to many accounts. I think family history is important and a key component in shaping one's life, depending on how it is interpreted, the trauma that may be endured and the legacy of pain or resilience left in its wake.

So I'm noting that Wright came from a family that was troubled, had a long history of marital tension before the divorce (his father struggled to make a living). Who knows what part this played in Frank Lloyd Wright's history of flirtations, long before he met Cheney? All of these factors - the divorce within his family, Wright's reputation as a flirt (some say a womanizer) and the fact that he already had 6 children which took up most of his wife's attention may have played pivotal roles in the affair itself. It is certainly important background info.

The author writes very well (most of the time) about the affair itself and events that were considered scandalous, even making headlines: how Wright and Cheney left their families, lived together, traveled overseas and more.

There is more I want to tell but if I do I will absolutely ruin the book for readers who don't know the whole story or haven't heard the complete tale of this affair. The book leads up to stunning event and I don't feel I should spoil the book by revealing more.

I will say that if you are the sort of reader who likes nice, neat and happy endings or romances, then you may feel let down at the end. I was fascinated by the whole saga. This is a major and epic novel, kept from being absolutely superb, in my opinion, by a few pacing issues. Even so, I'd recommend it for the strengths that shine through and for revealing a major episode in the noted architect's life. I'd definitely buy another book by this author, someone I expect to get better as she continues to write. She already has so much talent!

I'd also suggest readers do some research AFTER reading the book if they are interested in Wright's complete life story. If you do too much research beforehand, you'll find out what happens in this book and that may take away from the suspense.

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