If you are at all familiar with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, you will enjoy the parts of Loving Frank that describe not only his buildings, but also what he was thinking about when he designed them. You can almost see the buildings taking shape.
This is a work of fiction, based on actual events (mostly derived from newspapers of the time, and a few letters that survived). The book is about the affair that Wright had with Mamah (pronounced May-mah) Cherry, something that was a huge scandal at the time. The entire affair is told to the reader through Mamah’s eyes, leaving Frank to be somewhat of a mystery. Which he kind of was.
Mamah is married to Edwin, and, though they have two children, and the marriage isn’t a bad one, she is unhappy. In her eyes, she and Edwin just don’t really connect. Edwin, for the most part, is completely oblivious to Mamah’s growing restlessness.
Edwin and Mamah commission an up-and-coming architect to design and build one of his “Prairie Homes” for them. Mamah and Frank meet for the first time, and there is an instant attraction between the two. Frank is married as well (with children) and his wife is part of the social circle that all of them are friends with. Frank and Mamah both know they cannot be together, but, they also can’t seem to get enough of each other.
It starts small. Mamah invites Frank’s wife to social events, hoping to see Frank. Frank comes over to talk to Mamah about the house plans. They talk to each other more than either one talks to their own spouse, and find they have a lot in common, including a love of nature. Frank is also in an unhappy marriage, and has been feeling very distant from his wife for years before meeting Mamah. Both are so lonely, despite having large families.
Naturally, an affair starts.
Mamah finds herself making some incredibly difficult choices. Should she leave Edwin? Should they divorce? This was at a time when it wasn’t easy to get a divorce at all, but especially if the divorce was initiated by a woman.
Mamah would risk everything if she tried to get divorced. She could lose her children forever. She would definitely have a difficult time getting a job, because people at the time did not want to hire divorced women, and also because she would not have any job skills. Edwin could simply refuse to grant Mamah a divorce, and what would happen then? What about the children? Should Mamah take them with her if she leaves Edwin for Frank, or should she leave them behind, essentially abandoning them?
Frank doesn’t exactly have it easy either. His wife won’t sign the divorce papers. His money is running out, and he has a huge debt. His children won’t see him. Frank is losing a lot to be with Mamah, including his reputation. Once the newspapers find out about the affair, they do what newspapers do best: gossip about people in the public eye! Truth and lies become inseparable, and Frank loses some commissions because of this.
It becomes a question of desire. Is it better to stay in a life that is stable, but stale and lifeless, or, to risk losing everything for a chance at true passion?
This book is a work of historical fiction that takes place in the late 1800s and very early 1900s. That’s about 100 years ago, but it feels very modern. I was very impressed at how detailed a story Horan was able to create, considering she had so little data to work with. Readers from the Midwestern United States will recognize Oak Park (where it all started) as well as some of the other Midwestern places this book is set in.
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