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Loving Frank

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I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.

Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan’s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world. Mamah’s is an unforgettable journey marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility, leading inexorably ultimately lead to this novel’s stunning conclusion.

Elegantly written and remarkably rich in detail, Loving Frank is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman, a national icon, and their timeless love story.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published August 7, 2007

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About the author

Nancy Horan

5 books407 followers
Nancy Horan is a writer and a journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her husband and two sons. Loving Frank is her first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 9,807 reviews
Profile Image for Shannon.
1,546 reviews
June 25, 2008
I was very disappointed by this book. In the past two years, Jason and I have toured two Frank Lloyd Wright homes and I took a modern architecture class in college that featured a ton of his work, so I thought I would enjoy a fictionalized glimpse of his personal life. I did enjoy reading about Taliesin and the Midway Gardens and how FLW incorporated thoughts from disparate cultures (Japanese, Italian, German) into his own creations.

What I didn't like was Mamah, who was unfortunately the main character of the book. Mamah Cheney was a client of FLW's and they had an affair that spanned several years. It didn't bother me to read about their affair (the book was fairly tame in that regard), but I did find it highly objectionable that Mamah felt in order to be herself as a woman, she needed to abandon her children and husband.

I detest the idea that being a strong woman means being selfish, which I felt was implied throughout this book by Mamah's thoughts and actions. Isn't it MORE difficult to fulfill your obligations than to do whatever you want? Doesn't it make you a stronger woman to be responsible instead of meeting only your own needs?

I would like to think I'm a strong woman (perhaps too strong sometimes?) and I hope my daughters and others will look back on my life as something of value because I worked to stay myself while still loving others deeply and putting those I love before my own wishes, hopes and desires. I guess I was left feeling that "Loving Frank" was not a worthwhile proposition if loving him meant giving up so much of what is really important.
Profile Image for Gail.
1,037 reviews345 followers
July 10, 2008
So I realize I have a problem of, you, know, praising a LOT of books I read. And I'm sorry, I try to be honest, I do (and I AM. I just think I pick a lot of winners - ha ;)

But seriously, this book. WOW. WOW. WOW. I love it in a way I haven't loved a book in a while (even all the ones I've said I loved).

First off, for those unfamiliar with the plot, this is historical fiction at its finest — detailing the love affair between FLW and Mamah Cheney. It's a real affair, and the timeline (including an ending I won't say a peep about other than to say IT IS RIVETING) is true.

Sooo.... if you know nothing about the tryst, read about it in this book because it makes it that much more magical.

Remarkably, this is Horan's first book and it is beautiful. She managed to put pieces together of a puzzle that equates to an unbelievable love story but also one that is so true to the time period. And for a story about adulterers (early 20th century adulterers no less!), her even-handed approach to the story leaves you feeling both the joy and sorrow for these two individuals for what they were never allowed to really have.

PS - I'll just add that I know a writer has done a remarkable job when I finish a book and feel so compelled by it that I have to know more about the characters, the settings, etc. Horan has me wanting to read everything about FLW, Taliesin and Mamah Cheney that I can.

PPS - I often write these reviews right after finishing a book, so sorry if I gushed quite a bit. I so wish I could talk about this book with someone else, so people, GET ON IT! ;)
Profile Image for John.
145 reviews16 followers
December 24, 2007
Two people, selfish and completely self absorbed who flaunt convention and common sense while living their own self styled code of ethics “I want for me” A code invoked throughout their lifetimes with little consideration for the destruction, exploitation and pain caused for the adults and children left in their wake. 8 children and a niece who had already lost her own mother experienced directly the effects of this cavalier attitude toward responsibility. Fanciful thinking aside, I saw no courage displayed here. The more I read the more I yearned for some fiber of integrity to make its presence known in their consciousness, but no, that never happened.
Frank and Mamah possessed incredible genius, intelligence and the drive to accomplish something noble. My favorite Frank Lloyd Wright House is the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois and proclaimed by the former Ill Governor, Jim Thompson, to be “the finest example of the creative and uniqueness characteristic of the Prairie School of Architecture.” Mamah’s quest to achieve advancement in “the woman movement” as she termed it, was very admirable and seemingly so ahead of her time. I was anticipating her breakthrough and was willing to relish her success yet my interest in her as a person waned as her character flaws inexorably mounted one upon the other.
The story near the end of the book crashes with a startling and unexpected twist; I did not see it coming. Nancy Horan’s effort is a commendable mix of fact and fiction and fills in the blanks of a story that is typically unknown.
Profile Image for Molly.
41 reviews
January 29, 2015
Holy smokes does this book have a shocking ending. There is not one note on the book flap or in cover blurbs to point to that. It's a historical novel, a love affair between a woman named Mamah Borthwright or -wick (or something like that) and Frank Lloyd Wright. They really did leave their families--his six children, her three--to be with one another in 1909.

As an editor, I'm surprised by the book editor's decision to not make note of the tragic twist at the end even once on the cover. The book jacket recommendations were phoney-sounding: Elizabeth Berg wrote, "this character will live on in my heart and soul for the rest of my life." (I don't know about THAT)

Someone else, Scott Turrow perhaps (I highly doubt he read the whole book) called it a brave first novel. Okay, I'm with him; although it woudl have been braver still to do some creative flash-backing at some point to keep the reader from yawning about pre-war feminism and know that the end of the love affair was goign to rattle her--the reader's--cage.

If I were a blurbist, I'd write:

Horan's readable historical novel delves into the concepts of freedom versus self-absorption, creativy against egomania, and the price one pays, in any era, for happiness. Although she lived her brave, even racy life 100 years ago, Mamah Borthwick's struggles are not unlike women today. Her story is compelling from its safe, tidy Chicago suburban beginning to its sudden, jarring end. A great book club read.
Profile Image for Susan Albert.
Author 124 books2,226 followers
March 14, 2008
In 1972, I attended a conference at Frank Lloyd Wright's famous house, Taliesin, I've carried a vision of it ever since: its startlingly flat planes, the Oriental lines of its roofs, the way it snugs into the side of a Wisconsin hill. And indoors, the Zen-like simplicity of furnishings, the wide windows that open onto green landscape, and the glowing walls that seem to shimmer with their own inner light. I can understand why Mamah Borthwick Cheney fell in love with its architect and loved him with an outrageous passion until she died. I may have been a little in love with him myself when I left that remarkable house.

Loving Frank is a fictional recreation of the true story of the adulterous affair with Wright that pulled Mamah Cheney away from her young children, her husband, and their prosperous, comfortable life in Oak Park, Illinois. Wright himself was married, the father of six children, and a rising young architect. The two were drawn together in 1903 when Wright designed a house for the Cheneys.

Mamah Borthwick was a scholar and feminist when she married Edwin Cheney, and one of the things Nancy Horan does best in this tumultuous novel is to show how the egotistical, charismatic Wright reawakens her desire to be more than simply a mother and wife-to dream dreams impossible for those whose existences are constrained by convention. Horan also brings to life Mamah's terrible dilemma: how to create and sustain a life based on passion when that means giving up her two children, whom she also deeply loves. And Horan tellingly illuminates the conflicted relationship between Mamah and Ellen Key, a Swedish feminist and writer whose liberal ideas about sex, marriage, and child-care were far ahead of her time.

Loving Frank is all the more remarkable because it is Nancy Horan's first novel. The pace and intensity may lag a bit in the middle and drop off after the tragic events of 1914. And since this is a life-based fiction, I might have wished for a more detailed documentation of sources. Still, these are minor reservations about what is overall a fine achievement, a rich, compellingly imaginative work that allows us to see into the private emotional lives of two intriguing people: the man who significantly influenced American architecture for over fifty years, and the woman who loved him.
Profile Image for Walt.
Author 4 books31 followers
June 23, 2008
I like to read first published novels by authors, so when my reading group, comprised primarily of women, chose Loving Frank, I was looking forward to it. It didn't disappoint me. I enjoyed the narrative flow, which was smooth and calm as a river, even when it had exciting rapids. The story arced like a rainbow and climaxed like 24. It didn't seem written by a novice. I would say, "Great job, Nancy Horan."
Early in marriage, my wife and I moved from the West to the Midwest. We had lived a sheltered life. We had both graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees and were beginning careers. Our employer trained us in downtown Chicago. We had an infant daughter and needed someone to care for her daytimes while we went to the Loop. Fortunately, my wife's uncle and aunt lived in a suburb, so we lodged in a motel nearby and Aunt Mary graciously took care of our daughter.
I recall becoming acquainted with Frank Lloyd Wright and Oak Park, a Chicago neighborhood, about that time. I believe we drove through Oak Park, where he built his first home. Perhaps we even saw the house. This was in the 1970s, well after the time of Mamah's story. The complexion of society had changed. Anyway, the experience with Wright made my reading of this book more compelling. I had not realized Wright's character flaws before. I only knew of his architectural genius. Of course, I knew nothing of Mamah Borthwick. She was a complete unknown. I also knew nothing of Wright's family life.
Mamah Borthwick, the protagonist, is the classical tragic character. It is odd how one as gifted as Wright was artistically and architecturally could screw up life with his family and his lover so much. If Mamah is the protagonist, and she is, Wright is far and away the antagonist, although not the only one. Selfishness hangs right in there, too.
Mamah is a dupe, and Wright is a manipulator and a narcissist. The reason I believe Mamah comes across as a fool is because of some of the stupid thing she says and does. In her married life, a nanny cares for her kids. When Mamah has them alone on a train and one becomes ill, she's clueless what to do, wondering what her nanny would do with the child. And this is feminism? Ignorant? Incompetent?
She abandons her children when they need her most so she can become a mistress to Frank Floyd Wright. "I am putty in your hands, so quickly," she says. In other words, she's infatuated, drunken with passion, but not deeply in love. Not committed. She tells her kids, "I'm going on a small vacation [that lasts two years]…just for me." Uh huh. And who was that other guy with you on vacation? Her decision is, in her estimation, not "cruel self-indulgence" but "love for life." The children will be better off with happy parents, i.e. with a selfish mother.
Besides everything else, Mamah's husband, Edwin, is simply a terrific guy. Given the choice--and perhaps a sex-change operation-- I wouldn't have minded marrying him myself. And then, given the life of leisure his profession afforded, I'd indulge my feminist whims. Mamah's feminism certainly didn't seem enhanced or facilitated by Frank.
She supposedly loved Frank with every "cell in her body." Hmmm. I wonder. She threatens to leave him if he doesn't change. Yet doesn't he mold her just the way he wants her? Frank tells her she makes him "want to be a better man," but all the while he remains deceitful and arrogant, manipulating and lording it over people that work for him, people for whom he works, and his family.
When my wife and I left the West and our family roots for Illinois, we said goodbye to a sheltered existence for one out there, more enlightened and more free. We made the trip together, with our daughter. While it was frowned upon where we came from for a mother to work and to leave a child with a babysitter in order to pursue work, my wife did so, not altogether happy about it. And I think all of us, including my daughter profited by it. Loving Frank is a book that posits infatuation and self-love over against enduring, sacrificial love. No matter the era, in my estimation, the stamina to stay wins out over caprice and whimsy. Enduring love trumps infatuation and lust.
Fling or family? "Putty in your hands" doesn't seem very feminist to me.
I enjoyed reading and thinking about this a lot.
Profile Image for Susan.
20 reviews
September 27, 2007
Quite a rollercoaster - about midway through this book, I was completely inspired to DO THINGS. To be intellectual and well spoken and creative; in short, to not be just a mom, as I am most days. I thought Mamah was incredible; her self-discovery so moving.

But as the book progressed, I started to like her less and less. And Frank Lloyd Wright I never found an endearing character. Pompous ass, yes. I didn't think either of them were justified in their actions and I certainly couldn't get behind her heartbreak about her children. She should feel guilty and she got no sympathy from me. She made the choice. Another review I read wondered about the message of what makes a better parent - the present, but emotionally bereft one, or the absent one living a full life. I didn't think Mamah was either. Her life was full once she left, but only full of her and I don't think the children benefited from it. And definitely not in the long run! How gruesome. I'm glad I did some reading up on Mamah before I reached the end of the novel, so at least I knew it was coming.

The writing itself was quite solid for the most part. The romantic dialogue, however, was just painful, as were any of the "mushier" passages, whether it was Mamah reflecting on Frank or the last part where he reflected on her. It took away from what was quite interesting otherwise.

My MIL is one of the tour guides for the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Oak Park. I don't remember any of this getting mentioned, so it's interesting that the social niceties still must be observed in that little town, even after all these years.
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,762 followers
January 26, 2019
This is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney from 1902 to 1911.

They began their affair when Mamah and her then husband Edwin Cheney commissioned Wright to build their Oak Park home. Their attraction was immediate and continued until Mamah became pregnant with a daughter. Not too long after her daughter was born, they commenced their clandestine affair.

Eventually they moved to Europe, each leaving behind families and lived in Europe for 2 years. Mamah sought to find her true self, her own calling in the world, marked by choices that reshape her as a person. Wright is commissioned to build a portfolio which he works on diligently. They both long for their children but feel that they are deeply in love and cannot leave each other.

The story was well written and told about this woman in Wright's life who deeply impacted him and his work. She is usually ignored in the biographies of Wright. When they move to Wisconsin and build their home there is always the press seeking them out while they strive for privacy.

Eventually Edwin gives Mamah a divorce and allows the children to visit in summer. Wright visits his children rarely in Oak Park although his oldest son is now working with him.

The end of the story is tragic and unpredictable.

I would highly recommend this book and will look forward to more books from this author.
Profile Image for Schmacko.
246 reviews65 followers
June 23, 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.
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
September 4, 2020
This is the perfect example of a well done historical novel... based on facts, the story was very well researched, well-written, and well thought out. Not to mention an experience thoroughly appreciate what made this ingenious man.

I have long been interested in Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. I discovered this book while perusing the library for other biographies of my favorite architect (the nonfiction sort). It was quite a pleasant detour. An immersive endeavor to fully understand his personal life.

Although I realize this is still considered fiction, cross-referencing indicates it was based on facts. I have no qualms seeing this as what actually occurred during his affair(s) and career up and downs, until his death.

Great story with a shocking ending. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in architecture and design. Or merely a well-written great story.
197 reviews7 followers
October 29, 2008
I hated this book until about 3/4s of the way through, then I would say it was tolerable. I think the main characters are pompous, pretentious, and the "love" story overwrought and pointless. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if the author treated the characters as if she knew this was how they appeared, but she seemed to be taking the whole thing very seriously. And since most of the book is fabricated, I can't help but blame the author for turning a grown-up affair into some kind of adolescent "meeting of the minds", "my one true love and soulmate" experience. Call me unromantic, but there is no "feminist" excuse for a grown woman to leave her very young kids to have a more fulfilling life as some architect's soulmate and to be a translator for a bitter Swedish spinster. I'm not sure, in the end, if the writer was trying to make this romance appear as ridiculous as it turned out, or if she thought this was a truly moving story. I really was not moved. I had no sympathy for any of the characters, except the husband, wife and children that the adulterers deserted. The book sort of redeemed itself later, once Mahmah finally called Wright out for being an egotistical jackass. I breathed a sigh of relief and didn't have a problem finishing it. The ending was good and the only really interesting part of the book. I can think of so many better ways this story could have been written. For example, why not make it about how difficult it was for a woman to get a divorce and still have access to her children? What about writing in some of Wright's wife's perspective, which I'm sure would have been more dramatic? What about focusing on the ending, which was a story in itself?
I will say that I tend to dislike books with a lot of descriptive narrative. This one has a lot, and I'm sure that is part of why I disliked it.
Profile Image for Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews.
1,053 reviews1,374 followers
October 10, 2009
I never was aware about the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick..I only knew of his talents as an architect.

It was a good read, but how could ANYONE leave their children and run off with another man...to me that was totally irresponsible and unthinkable.

She may have re-thought her decision the last time she went to visit her children since they almost totally ignored her and were just being polite, but it was too late.

And....the ending....oh my...what a tragedy...my question, though, is this: Did that really happen at Taliesin?
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,735 reviews1,469 followers
December 5, 2018

If you do no know how the affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick ends up - well then you absolutely must read this book. That is assuming you are inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and design. I was in the blue. I had no idea what happened. Think if I hadn't read this book! So if you are like me and do not now how all was resolved - read this book. The writing is good. There are many lines I underlined to copy and add here as quotes, but then I got too lazy. What is most remarkable about this book is the ability of the writer to show how all those affected by the love affair felt. By the end of the book you come to understand why each of them made the decisions they made. Even Elisabeth Wright. I think the fairness with which the author portrayed all points of view was remarkable. Each character's emotion - hurt, betrayal and love are all felt by the reader. I kept changing my mind not knowing who to support. This shows that the author made me understand each one's point of view. You learn a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright. His personality, both his faults and his talents. Such knowledge is rarely imparted as well in a strict biography filled with dates and names and facts. I greatly admire Mamah. It is spooky how close I came to NOT reading this book. I suggest you read it. When you finish the book you understand each person and what they have gone through.

Through page 228:Loving Frank is an engaging book. What is most outstanding is that the author captures the lovers' euphoria and then also their pain and grief. Bit by bit you understand the emotions of each member of the two families. Some lines of the writing are beautiful. What do you think of this?

"Two years in a child's life is the distance between stars, she thought. She remembered being a child herself, lolling luxuriously in a bathtub at the age of eight and contemplating the vastness of the summer ahead. And it had turned out to be that - a millenium, it seemed, of fireflies and kick the can, of nights and days strung together by long pulsing cricket songs." (page 201)

The point is how a child might feel when a mother disappears for months..... The spouses, the children and the lovers are depicted in such a manner that you understand what each one is going through as the relationship begins and progresses. The relationship and the people change, Small idiosyncrasies about Frank are revealed. You learn of his strengths and his weaknesses. You learn about his family and his relationship with his sister and his mother.

Through page 125:I STILL do not know what to think. I still cannot judge! There are many aspects to consider:

"Can one week negate who you have been to your children for the whole of their lives?" (page 124)

No, of course not, but neither are any of your actions forgotten, although perhaps they can be forgiven. What is not forgotten remains. It is a kernel that never disappears.

"You can't keep your children by having no life of your own. You said that once to me. You said, 'They will know. Your own unhappiness will plant the seeds of unhappiness in your children. And they will blame you for it someday.'" (page 24)

But then there is this statement from pages 124-124:

"My mother's family went through years of persecution before they came over to the States. And do you know what it did to them after awhile? It actually made them tougher. I've told you what my family motto is: 'Truth against the world."

I am a big proponent of truth. However, I just don't think this motto supports Frank and Mamah's relationship! I simply find this a false way of supporting the lovers' choices. What Frank says is that they supposedly will be stronger by fighting the disapproval thrown at them. Maybe, but still they are satisfying their own desires and hurting others at the same time! I think he is kind of twisting things. Hopefully their children can be made stronger by what their parents have heaped on to them. I am not worried about Frank and Mamah; it is the others that worry me. You make choices and than you better be willing to accept the results. The behavior that bothers me the most is how they run from solving the problem rather than confronting it. Now they are leaving Germany to hide in some other European city.

My main point is - there is a lot to think about. No reader can read this and not draw their own conclusions. We might all draw different conclusions, but certainly we will all be thinking and evaluating what each of us might do in these circumstances.

Through page 122: I am fuming. What did Mamah THINK was going to happen when she ran off with Frank? Both of them married, both having children, both having loving spouses that wanted them back. The sad part is not the mess they created for themselves, but the grief that came pounding down on others. Even in the early 1900s the journalist made big news of such scandals. So what do I do? I immediately go to the back of the book and check if there is an author's note that explains what is real and what is fiction. There is a very clear explanation. I would have been very disappointed otherwise. The author has stuck to all the known facts and only filled in the holes. She has numerous letters between Mamah and the Swedish writer Ellen Key. Mamah translated from Swedish Ellen Key's essay "The Torpedo Under the Ark - Ibsen and Women". This analyses the women characters that make up Ibsen's writing. Keep in mind Ibsen's A Doll's House where the main character leaves her husband rather than be as a "doll" in their perfect home. These letters shed light on Mamah's relationship with Frank. I have not made any judgment concerning if what they did was right or wrong, not yet at least,but they certainly should have thought about how best to lessen their families' inevitable grief.

Through page 46: I feel like crying for these people. If you have read just a teeny bit about this book you know that Frank Lloyd Wright had an affair with Mamah Cheney. She leaves her children to be with him. Now I thought I wouldn't enjoy reading about this. I thought I couldn't understand how she could leave her children and cheat on her husband. I thought, but I was so wrong. I cry for all four adults, and I cry for the children. The author is making eachone's decisions so real that you truly understand how this could happen. The lines are sad and moving and funny! Mamah, which is pronounced May-mah, speaks of herself as a twelve-year-old:

"Oh, I was just the right age then, I think. Smarter than I ever was before of since. There were no grays. I worshiped my father. I loved my dog. I adored reading." (page 18)

Frank speaks philosophically:

"The measure of a man's culture is the measure of his appreciation. We are ourselves what we appreciate and no more." (page 10)

And this on page 32:

"How has it come to this? she wondered as she scrubbed. She had always thought herself a deeply moral person. Not a prude, by any stretch, but someone decent. Honorable. She would no more underline in a library book than allow the butcher to return too much change. How had she come to a point where she could so easily tell herself that adultery with a friend's husband was all right?"

Somehow I understand. Somehow actions which first hit me as simply deplorable are now tragic.

Furthermore, I am learning about Frank Lloyd Wright. I have always loved His architecture and interior design. Think to be able to start fresh. Think to throw out all the clutter. On the other hand, I don't agree completely. There are some decorative pieces I could never bring myself to abandon. How can one abandon everything? No, I don't agree completely. Mamah was like me. She had a house designed by Frank, but she knew she could not completely erase herself.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
March 10, 2020
I read this upon its release in 2007. I liked the historical aspect but the book as a whole wasn't as stunning as I originally anticipated. I would recommend this to those who are interested in the topic but don't expect it to be 5 stars...
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,575 followers
February 7, 2018
Even if you don’t have any particular interest in architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this carefully crafted and lovingly written historical novel is well worth reading. Mamah (“May-muh”) Borthwick Cheney and her husband Edwin hired Wright to design their suburban Chicago home in 1903, and in 1907 she and Wright embarked on an affair. The novel covers roughly the next seven years of their lives, and is particularly illuminating about relationships, the rights of women and the morality code of the time.

The couple’s ‘elopement’ to Europe – where they spent time in Berlin, Paris and Florence – was a headline-worthy scandal, but Horan sensitively, and successfully, portrays Mamah’s decision as a noble one to pursue the ideal of happiness. Through Mamah’s eyes she shows just why this affair was irresistible: “Frank Lloyd Wright was a life force. He seemed to fill whatever space he occupied with a pulsing energy that was spiritual, sexual, and intellectual all at once.” But in the eyes of the public, and of their families, it was a selfish choice that left her two children adrift. Beside Mamah, Catherine Wright was held up as a paragon of fidelity, waiting patiently for Frank to come back to her and their seven children.

Mamah was torn between her love for her children and her commitment to a fulfilling relationship with Frank, and when they returned to the States and settled at Taliesin, the home Wright designed in the Wisconsin countryside, she tried to have it all. Meanwhile, she was a bluestocking who knew several languages and was devoted to making the work of Ellen Key, a Swedish philosopher who believed in free love, available in America.

At times I felt Horan got a bit bogged down in chronology, as if she was so determined to stick to the historical record that she gives every detail when she might just have skimmed over events with broad strokes – giving 360 pages of fairly small print. [By contrast, she mostly shies away from describing Mamah and Frank’s trip to Japan (Chapter 42 picks up just after they get home in 1913) – perhaps she felt she didn’t have the firsthand knowledge of Japan to make scenes believable.] But with a very few exceptions, this kept me gripped throughout.

Now, if you think you are at all likely to read this book, whatever you do, DO NOT GOOGLE Mamah Borthwick Cheney, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s life in these years. When I was about three-quarters of the way through the book, I stumbled onto two clues that nearly gave away how their affair would end. Luckily, I was still in the dark enough that the end of the book came as a shocker. I’m now keen to compare this with T.C. Boyle’s The Women, which is about Catherine, Mamah and two other important female figures in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.

Some favorite lines:

Mamah to Frank: “I’m like the trunk of a cactus, I suppose. I take in a dose of culture and time with friends, then I retreat and go live on it for a while until I get thirsty again. It’s not good to live so much inside oneself. It’s a self-imposed exile, really. It makes you different.”

Mamah to her sister Lizzie: “Right now I feel as though if I stay in this house, if I go on pretending much longer, whatever is left of me is going to just smother.”

Mamah to her friend Mattie: “Yet women are part of the problem. We plan dinner parties and make flowers out of crepe paper. Too many of us make small lives for ourselves.” & “Does that mean I have to play this hand to the bitter end, full of regret? Knowing I might have had the happiest life imaginable with the one man I love more than any other I have ever known?”
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,767 reviews133 followers
September 16, 2020
A smashing success!

Loving Frank is a spectacular work of historical fiction based on events relating to the love affair of the brilliant and controversial architect Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

The author goes to incredible detail to include actual events, letters and newspaper clippings. Additionally she details the roots of the woman's movement with strong female characters in Europe and the USA.

Being a huge fan of Wright, I have background about his work. I have visited a few homes and had a 1/2 day tour of his marvelous Phoenix area home he used for training students. The struggles of Wright were a revelation because I falsely assumed he started building and instantly became famous.

The book started slowly but increased pace until it was fling at the speed of sound at the climax.

I loved this book and recommend it to all.
Profile Image for Celia.
1,192 reviews152 followers
September 14, 2021
I have read this book twice and LOVED it both times. It is the story of Mamah Bouton Borthwick Cheney and her love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Broken down into Three Parts, it not only describes the liaison, but also the mores and thinking of the time.

Part I- their meeting and budding romance.

Edwin Cheney wanted an uncluttered house. Being president of Wagner Electric, Edwin could afford to hire Frank Lloyd Wright to design it. Little did Edwin know how much his own life would change.

Part II- their life in Berlin and Italy.

Frank has gone to Berlin to collaborate on a book of his design to be published by Warmuth. Mamah poses as Frank's wife. When the Warmuths find out that she is not his wife, they are criticized and flee to Italy.

Part III - the building of Taliesin and the tragedy that occurs.

Mamah obtains her divorce from Edwin. Catherine Wright will not grant FLW a divorce. FLW's mother lives in Wisconsin near Spring Green. She purchases land on which to build Taliesin (which in Swedish means shining brow). They hire a couple from Barbados to cook. The husband, Julian Carlton, has a bad temper; no one likes him. Mamah decides to let the couple go, but before they leave, Julian sets the house on fire and axes her and her son John. Seven people die including Mamah, John and her daughter Martha.

Both Mamah and FLW are depicted as egotistic. Somehow Horan is able to pull this off with a sympathetic and non judgemental rendition of the events.

I have read this book twice and would read it again. It is not only well written, but also encourages the reader to think about infidelity, women's rights, loyalty, and freedom to be what one wants to be.

5 stars
Profile Image for Penelope.
73 reviews4 followers
August 30, 2008
WOW. I just finished this book and that's the first word that comes to mind. HOLY CRAP are the second and third. Talk about an emotional punch to the gut.

Before reading this novel, I knew of Frank Lloyd Wright and his amazing designs but nothing of his personal life. It surprised me right off the bat to learn that he left his first wife for another woman, arguably the love of his life, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The novel chronicles their affair from beginning to end. Love, soul mates, sex and romance is always fun to read, and I found Mamah and Frank's time together to be particularly enthralling. However, it's their special circumstances and the author's writing style that make this book a must read.

A woman of the early 1900s, Mamah chose her personal happiness and freedom instead of the socially accepted method of motherhood. Her choices and subsequent intellectual justifications comprise a large portion of the novel. It also provides for thoughtful discussion.

As a mother myself, I struggle with her choices concerning her children. For NO ONE or NO THING would I forsake my children; I was born to be their mother, and I take that honor not only seriously but joyfully. Thus, it was extremely hard not to judge Mamah by my own standards of motherhood. However, I truly believe it's even harder to accept, and perhaps, celebrate Mamah for who she was, and that's what I did in the end.

And, as I reminded myself time and time again, things have changed from 100 years ago. If I was in an unsatisfying marriage and then found true love with another man, (for the record, my husband and soul mate are one and the same. most days :0), in all likelihood, I would be able to conduct myself in such a manner that I could have it all – a divorce, a remarriage AND my kids. I’m not an expert by any means, but I don’t believe those options were readily available to women in the early 1900s. Then again, I don’t think Mamah ever truly wanted the children to be with her full time. All of her actions and choices ensured against that slight possibility.

Just as there is a difference in donating sperm to be a biological father and actually being a Dad, not every woman that bears a child is a Mother. Society, back in 1903 and still in 2008, judges women much more harshly on this point than we do men. When men leave the rearing of their children to the mothers, we shake our heads and shrug; with women, we gasp, shriek and condemn -- case closed.

Mamah was never emotionally invested in her children; she thought of them as burdens preventing her own happiness. Given that reality, I easily argue it was in the children's best interests that she was removed herself from their daily lives. The kids went through hell, no doubt, and so much of it could have been avoided if Mamah possessed even the tiniest amount of mothering sense whatsoever. However, if she had stayed with her family, to what sort of emotional devastation would the children be subjected? I can't imagine any child being better served by a physically present but emotionally absent mother than by a doting, loving father, aunt and eventual step-mother. Had Mamah ever reached this same conclusion (at the birth of her second child, after meeting Frank, ….or at any point at all), I could have respected her as a mother and as a woman with more ease.

The author's writing style is beautiful and intelligent. It flows easily, and I flew through the pages. Even being a fully invested mother of two young and very active boys, I finished this book in less than 48 hours. (yes, I'm a fast reader and yes, I was a bit tired that one morning ;)

Without spoiling anything, I cannot say any more than you MUST read this book.
Profile Image for Christine Zibas.
382 reviews37 followers
June 30, 2016
"When she looked in the mirror, she saw a woman pink-faced from desire. And from being desired. My lord, what a narcotic!"

This fictional books takes its roots in the very real relationship between Architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah (may-muh) Borthwick Cheney, once a client of his whose family purchased one of Wright's Prairie-style homes in Oak Park, Illinois.

Mamah was a very unusual woman, not just in that she was willing to leave her husband, children, and sister (who lived with the family) for Wright, but also because she was a woman of keen intelligence and spirit. She was college-educated (at a time when few women were) and a translator of feminist works, whose Swedish author advocated free love.

While the book certainly shares plenty about Wright and his work, at the center of the book is a love story and a yearning to find the person to share your life with who truly understands your essence. That's what Mamah believed she had found in Frank, and vice versa. Nearly as compelling as their relationship is the honest search by Mamah for meaning and purpose in her own life, separate and apart from anyone else.

She truly tried to march to the beat of her own drum, but society and those around her were not always kind. In fact the parallels between this story and some of celebrity culture exposes of the 21st century seem to parallel this turn-of-the-20th-century story.

There is much to like in this novel and if you are anything like this reader, you'll soon be off researching even more about Wright, his work, and the incredible Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,768 reviews333 followers
February 29, 2016
4.5 stars.
This work of fiction attempts to tell the story of Mamah Chaney and her love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. It is told strictly from Mamah’s perspective and we learn of the effect her actions had on others only through her final realizations … however late they come.

The writing is very personal and intimate and so the story is compelling. I wavered between feeling in tune with Mamah and being exasperated with her. She had such blinders for much of Frank’s flaws, and for her own.

Would the story have played out differently today? Most definitely. There would not have been the huge scandal for one thing. Frank’s business would not have suffered as it did (but then he would be “freer” to make his own mistakes with no one or nothing to blame). Mamah would not have needed to hitch her wagon to Frank’s star in order to “find herself and her own fulfillment” in today’s society.

I did not know the story of Frank and Mamah so the ending was a surprise to me and one that left me reeling.
Profile Image for Barbaraw - su anobii aussi.
237 reviews29 followers
June 21, 2018

Dunque...fatemi capire.
Per vivere un grande amore, Mamah, la protagonista reale nonché personaggio di questo romanzo, ardita donna, traduttrice di una celebre femminista, eroina dell’amore libero e dell’emancipazione femminile, ha il coraggio (secondo alcuni l’incoscienza) di abbandonare il tetto coniugale, un pallido marito e due figli amati per lanciarsi in avventure tra Parigi, Berlino e il Wisconsin con l’amato Frank Lloyd Wright, il geniale architetto.
Grandioso, pare.
Ora, a pagina 330, leggo che nella casa che lui ha costruito (dice) per lei, la famosa Taliesin, lei non ha diritto di scegliere le rose del colore che desidera, non può coltivare le piante dove e come le pare. L'uomo così appassionato che lei ama e insegue e venera accetta soltanto le scelte che "siano in linea con la casa". In realtà Mamah, la bella, adulata e leggendaria Mamah, vive come una reclusa, con tutti i giornalisti americani alle calcagna per via dello scandalo che ha suscitato la coppia libertaria, senza libertà, senza i suoi figli, e, a quanto pare, il peggio deve ancora arrivare.

Ecco che mi sgomento; ero prontissima all’ammirazione e trovo amarezza, penso che il piatto Edwin, suo marito, avrebbe forse mostrato più rispetto. Mi trovo a pensare che questi due amanti sinceri avrebbero vissuto più felicemente nell’adulterio, anzi non so quello che penso, se non che forse che non so cosa pensare...
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
May 12, 2013
This is the first book I finished from my speed dating project, so that probably tells you something about the ease of reading this story about Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress and the rise and fall of their relationship. I had originally picked this book to use as my Illinois pick for the Around the USA reading challenge, and still will count it for that since Wright's main office was in Chicago during the timeframe of this book, but it also takes place in Italy and Wisconsin.

I have seen several people, mostly mothers, rating this book low because they don't like that FLW's mistress, Mamah Cheney, left her children to be with Frank. I think it is kudos to the author that she is able to bring these characters to life - to make a reader hate a character, even a historical one, is a feat. There is one character in this novel that I hated far more, and that would be Frank Lloyd Wright himself. So completely self-centered. So delusional as to believe his artistic vision was more important than paying his staff or respecting others. So selfish that his emotional needs came first, with no regard for the needs of the woman who has left her family for him, and severed all her ties.

Why do women give up their lives to be with selfish men? This is something I will never understand. It isn't an accident that the novel is called "Loving Frank," and not "Frank Loving Other People." Mamah tries to regain her sense of purpose by translating the works of a Swedish feminist, and she tries too late to rebuild relationships with her children and sister, but Frank is not supportive of anything taking energy away from his needs. Ugh. What a baby. And in the end, she pays dearly for it. I could not believe the end of this book. It felt like one of those terrible movie endings intended to shock the audience, but I went back and read about it and it is all true. I really didn't know much about Wright after all.

And as far as Mamah goes, well clearly her life went the wrong direction the minute she gave up her life as a librarian to marry Edwin. :)

ETA a few quotables:

"All the talk revolves around getting the vote. That should go without saying. There's so much more personal freedom to gain beyond that. Yet women are part of the problem. We plan dinner parties and make flowers out of crepe paper. Too many of us make small lives for ourselves."

"People who live only for their children make bad company for them."
Profile Image for Sara.
245 reviews30 followers
December 26, 2007
Nancy Horan's fictionalized version of the true story of the affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney fills in the raw facts with well-researched context and beautifully expressed emotion.

Horan's exploration of Mamah's painful experiences as a renegade woman going against the Victorian ideals is touching and realistic. She does an excellent job of turning these real people into relatable characters and fleshes them out using letters, anecdotes with sensationalist newspaper accounts as a foil to her reconstructed reality.

It's all here: Frank's infatuation with spatial purity marred by his inability to fund his ambitions, Mamah's revolutionary suffragist New-Woman outlook and their respective spouses' strict and damaging adherence to the social mores of their early twentieth-century suburban lives.

Anyone who has former knowledge of the outcome of Frank and Mamah's life together knows a terrible end is in store for them, but Horan somehow arranges for it to sneak up on the reader, just as it must have sneaked up on Mamah. In this way, the author puts readers in Frank Lloyd Wright's place, as we discover the aftermath through his eyes.

This book is very well written, and skillfully constructed. It is also very accessible to those who know nothing or little about Frank Lloyd Wright, although once they have read this, they may be curious to know more. For those who want to know more about the architect, I highly recommend the PBS special on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright or an excellent biography, "Frank Lloyd Wright" by Meryle Secrest.
Profile Image for Christina.
691 reviews41 followers
February 22, 2009
Living in Chicago, I have visited Wright's Home & Studio in Oak Park and Taliesin in Spring Green many times, so I already knew the stories of the great architect's personal tragedies and failings. Loving Frank was an engaging read, but I found myself questioning some of it, particularly Horan's depiction of Mamah's guilt and regret over her abandonment of her children. I wanted to like Mamah, but I found that -- even though Horan tried hard to convince me to empathize with her -- I couldn't fully understand or excuse her selfishness. Wright's arrogance and disregard for the feelings of others are legendary, and knowing what I do about his later years and subsequent marriage, I couldn't quite persuade myself that Mamah really was the love of his life. In the end, I finished the book with my ideas about Wright mostly unchanged. Wright was a professionally arrogant but personally insecure man who needed adoring disciples -- male and female -- around him at all times to reflect his greatness.
Profile Image for Wendy.
546 reviews19 followers
July 17, 2015
I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book for my monthly book club. It was a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years and I never got around to reading. I was pleasantly surprised, although it repeated itself alot and I didn't care for Mamah Borthwick much at all I enjoyed reading and learning about Frank Lloyd Wright. The ending of the book was surprising and it made the book so much more enjoyable not knowing anything about his life or what really happened.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,135 followers
February 27, 2013

This book details the love affair between the eccentric (and married) Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his married clients Mamah Cheney over a period of 7 years during the early 1900's when such behavior was highly criticized and publicized following them around wherever they travelled. Throughout the book, Mamah struggles with her decision to leave her two young children behind, but continues her journey with Frank, a self-absorbed, arrogant lier who often didn't pay his carpenters and cheated his business associates thinking himself and his work more important than the common man.

Although FLW is dipicted as a brilliant man with his ideas of organic architecture (I actually would like to see the homes he constructed in Oak Park, IL), and probably truly did love Mamah, I felt he lived in his own world and loved himself the most.

This book is more about Mamah than FLW actually and her desires to be free of a husband she didn't love (a good provider and devoted man) to pursue her own desires and career.

I had a hard time staying focused while reading this book until the last few chapters, but then it had my full attention!


Profile Image for Lucy.
475 reviews592 followers
November 10, 2008
This book was brought to my attention several months ago but I didn't seriously consider reading it because I thought it was essentially a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect. I have a serious handicap when it comes to reading non-fiction and if I'm going to read a biography of someone, I wanted to read about someone whose life's details I had some...nay....any interest in knowing. An architect, even a really, really famous one, didn't meet that criteria.

When it was selected as a book group selection, I waved my white flag and read it anyway. Say what you will about book groups, one thing I appreciate about the forum is that they tend to throw books in my path that I wouldn't otherwise read. When I end up actually enjoying the mandated book, I appreciate the selection even more.

Loving Frank is part factual biography, part fictional novel featuring the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney's as she fell in love with Frank Lloyd Wright. Mamah, a feminist, intellectual and suffragist, was married to safe, loyal but rather boring Edwin Cheney. The married couple were financially secure enough to keep a nanny, a housekeeper and eventually hire an up and coming architect to build one of his conceptually new "Prairie Houses". Financial and marital security did not bring contentment to Mamah, however, and when Wright intimately connects with her on an intellectual and emotional level during the building of her and her husband's home, a physical affair between the two quickly follows.

What makes this story compelling and great discussion fodder isn't Frank and Mamah's relationship or their affair, it's the constant negotiating and justification the author forces Mamah to debate with herself and with the world about the honesty and integrity of romantic and self love. For Mamah, a person's own happiness super ceded that of any one else's, including one's children, although she admitted several times how incongruous that belief felt at times. When she found literature written by radical thinker, Ellen Key, her belief that she should be with Frank at the expense of everything else, because she loved him, deepened. I am left wondering when, if ever, a selfish act is the BEST act. As much as the pair wished it to be so, they did not exist in a bubble and their relationship had real and lasting consequences to the families they abandoned.

If the moral debate is the actual gift of the book (and for me, it was), then the fancy wrapping and giant bow is the holy-cow-wow! drama and historically significant events that made up the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. This should be a very interesting discussion.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,503 followers
May 3, 2009
Beautiful writing although long-winded and boring in parts with too much minute detail. Unfortunately the despicable, narcissistic, selfish, self-absorbed characters made this a difficult read.
Profile Image for Suzy.
775 reviews249 followers
August 16, 2021
I listened to this book with my guy Randy as we drove to Taliesen, the home that Frank Lloyd Wright built for Maymah Cheney, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Maymah was the love of Frank Lloyd Wright's life. They were both married to other people, with children, when they met and began their affair. This flies in the face of modern morality about the sanctity of marriage, but I believe that these two people couldn't help themselves, that they were destined to be together. She was his muse in his architecture and art, and he helped her flourish in a male-dominated society. This is not to say that their life was easy and that their story was "heart-warming". Their affair caused pain to themselves and many others, but I believe this is an example of cosmic forces being stronger than individual decisions.

I think this fictional account of a true story gives a glimpse into society in the first half of the 20th century and into the personal life of Frank Lloyd Wright. We really enjoyed our visit to Taliesen, where his architecture school is still in business. Subsequently, we have done the "Wright Walk", in Oak Park, Illinois where once a year, people who live in FLW homes open them up to the public.
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