Loving Frank

Loving FrankLoving Frank by Nancy Horan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possible spoiler alert! I knew the basic outline of the story of Frank and Mamah going into it, so I dreaded getting to the end of it. Nancy Horan created a very sympathetic portrayal of Mamah – and I really wanted them to have more time together. Probably Frank’s ego and narcissism would have meant that he eventually would have cheated on her. And if Mamah had grown enough to leave him, perhaps she would have gone on to an illustrious career. As it was, these two kindred spirits had a kind of co-dependent relationship that both helped and hindered their individual lives. I think Nancy Horan did a marvelous job with the historical information available to her of staying true to the characters and the time period, and yet getting inside their heads in a very believable way. There were a few gaps in the story where the narrative either glossed over large chunks of time or could have been fleshed out with more details, but I think Ms. Horan wanted to avoid making up anything that wasn’t supported by her research. As it was, she worked an enormous amount of detail into the story, surrounding it with a very elegant style of prose that beautifully evoked the time period, and flowed in a very readable manner. I could have wished for a list of her sources or suggestions for further reading at the end of the book.

Having also listened to T.C. Boyle’s “The Women”, it probably enhanced my understanding of how strongly Frank and Mamah were bound to each other, and how her death affected the rest of his life. Whatever good qualities had drawn her to him died with her and left a hole that he could never fill.

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
“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.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Joyce Bean.

The Women

The WomenThe Women by T.C. Boyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version read by Grover Gardner and enjoyed this very much. Boyle has a way of describing locations in a way that brings all the details vividly to life. The “narrator” of the story is a fictional Japanese apprentice who comes to live at Taliesin, and who muses on the foibles of his master, through the lens of the women in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life. The story is told backwards from his last wife Olgivanna, perhaps the most successful at accommodating herself to Frank’s ego, ending with the tragedy of the murder of Mamah and her children. In between, is the drug addicted and extremely narcissistic Miriam Noel, who evoked no sympathy for the hell she created for herself. I would have liked the book to continue backwards with the story of Kitty, his first wife, but perhaps that would be another book in itself. I found myself sharing the assessment of Tadashi, the narrator – a mixture of admiration for the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright along with shaking my head over his bull-headedness and inability to learn from his mistakes.

I should add that FLW’s wives are not the only “women” in this story. Also of interest are Svetlana, the daughter of Olgivanna, FLW’s housekeeper and cook, Mrs. Breen, FLW’s mother, and the wife of the Barbadian servant.


Having brought to life eccentric cereal king John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle now turns his fictional sights on an even more colorful and outlandish character: Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle’s incomparable account of Wright’s life is told through the experiences of the four women who loved him. There’s the Montenegrin beauty Olgivanna Milanoff, the passionate Southern belle Maude Miriam Noel, the tragic Mamah Cheney, and his young first wife, Kitty Tobin. Blazing with his trademark wit and inventiveness, Boyle deftly captures these very different women and the creative life in all its complexity.