Schmacko's Reviews > Loving Frank

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
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Jun 19, 2008

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Read in June, 2008

I read Nancy Horan's debut book, because in a few days I will be up in Wisconsin very near some of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous works. Loving Frank is a somewhat-fictional account of the little-known feminist Mameh Borthwick Cheney and her 9-year affair with FLW. This relationship broke up two marriages and filled papers with scandal, as the couple ran away to Europe and then came to build their famous home, Taliesin, in Wisconsin.

Some books, I can concede are perfectly well-written books, and yet I still am not their target audience. I felt I had a good book I was not built to enjoy.

Loving Frank does deftly weave facts about FLW's and Mameh Borthwick's culture and history in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Horan formulates a clear feeling for their post-Victorian lives in Oak Park, Illinois. There is also a strong sense that many of the letters, newspaper articles, and correspondence are based in truth, if not verbatim.

Horan is also fairly deft at describing the ideas or concepts of Wright's design. Though, admittedly, Horan is better at the metaphor than she is at the practical description of his buildings. (I found myself looking up pictures online to understand what Horan meant by her poetic turns of structural phrase.) Also, Wright's full history and affect on American architecture are only scattered piecemeal throughout the book, requiring the reader to formulate a biographical timeline that doesn't exist in the book.

Perhaps the best part of the book is that Loving Frank helps the reader ponder important questions of about feminism, marriage, and self-destiny.

So, why was I frustrated reading this book?

Much of the book is framed as an angst-riddled romantic novel. Wright and Borthwick spend so many pages wallowing in their lovelorn conundrums that the emotions start to feel like a second-rate Wuthering Heights. Also, Horan has a journalism background, and yet she is not concise or to-the-point. Loving Frank is fairly indirect and long-winded. It is as if the larger picture of this famous relationship got lost in reporting on the minutiae – every telegraph and newspaper article. Many chapters blather on as some variation of the chapters before; nothing new is raised, or if it is, it ends up being inconsequential to the whole story.

Many people would love this book. They would find such tangential and thorough emotional writing a joy to explore. They would sink themselves into such a book, reveling in the details, feeling as if they really got to know everything about these two interesting historical figures. I found myself digging for new information, new insight, data outside of the drippy emotions. These things I longed for are buried somewhere deep in there, in between the long bouts of romance and long paragraphs of navel-gazing reflection and guilt-riddled self-flagellation, on a few of the pages of this 54-chapter, 356-page book. I could have just done without the bodice-ripping sections.
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Rhonda I also read Loving Frank and feel it was well written with a variety of writing styles. I am going to use this novel at the High School where I teach for the Reading Circle Club this year. This is an excellent narrationn of Frank Loyd Wright's biography from the perspective of a woman's voice. Ruggles' Comments!

Pearl "Bodice-ripping"? Rather an extreme description of real anguish.

Schmacko I am assuming the "real anguish" you're referring to is how things ended, which is tragic. If the "real anguish" is Horan's description of their love affair, I'll politely disagree and stick to the term "bodice ripping," since I still feel Horan wasn't there and yet her writing played up the overly romantic, self-flagellating aspects some readers love but I am not deeply interested in. Thanks for your comment; I admit I'm not much of a romantic, and I'm wary of the frenzied, uncontrollable passions people can talk themselves into.

Pearl Schmacko wrote: "I am assuming the "real anguish" you're referring to is how things ended, which is tragic. If the "real anguish" is Horan's description of their love affair, I'll politely disagree and stick to the..."

No I was not referring to the ending but that was real anguish indeed.

You must not read any popular fiction (good for you) if you thought this book had bodice ripping elements in it. Usually that term is used to describe the passionate ripping of the front of the female garment by a lustful male. Modern popular fiction or 18th C. fiction by Samuel Richardson, etc. The sexual element in the book was not explicit except in discussions of Ellen Key's ideas of sexual liberation.

Be that as it may, I though Mamah's anguish over the choice she made about her children was depicted realistically, not overly dramatically. It's hard to imagine making the choice Mamah did. But make it she did, and she had to live with the consequences. Couldn't have been easy and Horan doesn't depict it as such. Horan interviewed Mamah's neighbor in Oak Park, who remembered how much Mamah loved and played with her children.

Schmacko Ha, you're right! The one popular romance I read in the last ten years I HATED.

In fact, if Horan had been more journalistic, she would've taken a more dispassionate approach - talking more about the emerging feminism, the effects of people like Emma Goldman on female roles, the emerging of the female political voice, and a few theories on why Wright was so attracted to yet embarrassed by Mameh's independence. In other words, she would've explored tangents and brought new and fresh understanding to each and every turn of the page.

Instead, like I said, so much of it was repetitious, personal anguish - anguish that did not change or bring new insight for page after page. Horan made it abundantly clear the characters were anguished, over and over and over, ad nauseum. If that was her way of showing Mameh's torture, she did it, partially by passing a certain torture onto me.

I'm be facetious, but I really longed for some more variety of writing, insight, and choice. I loved it when Horan did do it, as I mentioned in my review:

"Perhaps the best part of the book is that Loving Frank helps the reader ponder important questions of about feminism, marriage, and self-destiny."

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