By: Nancy Horan
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 2008
Reviewed by: Michelle Hutchinson
Review Date: October 2008
Author Nancy Horan has categorized her debut novel, Loving Frank, as historical fiction, but others might classify it as romance. The story is based on the real-life love affair that took place from 1907 to 1914, between world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick. During this period, Wright had not yet become the internationally, or even nationally recognized architect whose name is so familiar today.
Much has been written about Wright, but little information exists about Mamah Borthwick, who was married to Edwin Cheney at the time she and Wright began their liaison, so Horan created the persona of Mamah by interviewing people who were neighbors of the Cheneys, poring over articles from the yellow journalism tabloids of the time, and most importantly, reading several letters Mamah had written to Swedish philosopher Ellen Key.
The Cheneys had hired Wright, who was also married, to design and build a house for them. It was during this process that Mamah and Frank developed a close friendship, and it was after the Cheneys were living in the house but some work still needed to be completed that the intimate relationship between Mamah and Frank began. Frank’s wife eventually discovered the affair, and later, Mamah confessed it to Edwin. Both Mamah and Frank ended up leaving their families (yes, there were children involved) and living together.
Horan’s novel deftly traces the hefty price that Mamah, an educated woman, translator, and supporter of woman’s suffrage, paid for loving Frank. She lost not only her husband and children, but her friends and sister too. Even when there were still opportunities to return to their fold, even during periods that Wright returned to his own family, Mamah maintained an independent life, because she was also on a journey of self-discovery, trying to figure out what she was beyond a wife and mother.
There were times throughout this story when I felt like kicking Mamah for not coming to her senses and other moments when I rooted her on as she championed a cause. Clearly, Horan has created a character who could have been the real Mamah Borthwick, one who has faults as well as admirable qualities.
Quill says: An excellent first novel from an author who may have you asking yourself how much women’s roles have changed today.