By August 26, 2009 2 Comments Read More →

Loving Frank

Why is Loving Frank by Nancy Horan such a good book for discussion? My book group met to discuss Loving Frank earlier this month and the room was packed. As soon as we got started, as the conversation progressed, as new voices entered the fray, I had a feeling that we had a really good one on our hands.

But why–why did Loving Frank spark such lively, varied responses?

First, it is a historical novel and its main characters are renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah Borthwich Cheney. The enigmatic, egomaniac Frank is known, to a greater or lesser degree, by most, but Mamah, the feminist who left her husband and children to be with a married man she admired in the early 1900s is a virtual unknown.

Who was Mamah? What enabled her to make the choices that she did? How could she leave her two young children behind, in an age when distance meant more? Readers, both men and women in the group, could not help but have an emotional response to Mamah’s choices. From one statement to the next it appeared as though they found Mamah both a sympathetic and unsympathetic character. Horan draws Mamah with a compelling complexity–she is as hard to pin down now as she was in her own day.

An entire discussion could revolve around feminism and how women’s choices are viewed differently than the choices of men–what has and hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. The Swedish feminist, Ellen Key, for whom Mamah becomes a translator and her views on women’s roles over time also places Mamah’s life in stark relief against her ideals and the mores of the day.

Then there is Frank. We see him through Mamah’s eyes, a view that is, at times, rose-tinted, written from the heart of their intellectual and erotic affair. But readers still bristled at his arrogance, his brash and inconsiderate ways. For those who knew about his life story, it was hard to trust entirely his love for Mamah. He did, after all, marry another two times, and wrote sparingly of his relationship with Mamah–denoting reverance or dismissal?

Loving Frank is an intellectual romance, and to some degree, whether you are aware of the historical record or not, the end is very difficult to approach. To learn that Mamah’s life, and the life of her children, is cut short through such an act of violence, to have such vivacity and curiousity extinguished is painful to contemplate.

For so many reasons, this book bowled me and my group over. There are so many themes here that resonate in our contemporary conversations about love, marriage, motherhood, art and individuality. As Neil pointed out in a previous post, Loving Frank can also be paired with other fiction and nonfiction works to expand your conversation.

My book group’s discussion was so exciting that it makes it all the harder to start my maternity leave in October. I have one more meeting with them before I go, and I will savor it. Much as I love Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, I am not certain that it can top our discussion of Loving Frank.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Loving Frank"

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  1.' Lisamm says:

    My book club’s discussion of this book was really something else, too. I have to say we were very critical of both Frank and Mamah.

    I wrote about it on my blog:

    Oh, and I LOVED Last Night at the Lobster! But I agree that a discussion of it probably won’t generate the same kind of heat as Loving Frank. I didn’t read Lobster with my group but would love to have someone to talk to about it!! WIll look for your review.

  2.' Pamela Sanford says:

    I am very late with my comments because I just read the book. I’m feeling some regret that I did not know about this thought-invoking book “Loving Frank” last year, when the discussion groups, I am sure, were quite lively with comment.

    But, as I am sure many have experienced, I can’t help thinking about this book. Some questions/comments that occurred to me are:

    1. Do “intellectuals” like Frank and Mamah have something inside of them that drives them so strongly as to justify forsaking family?

    2. I noted that neither family seemed to be church-going, so if it is a fact that this was absent in both of their families, was this perhaps a reason, that they did not feel a moral or religious responsibility to “do the right thing” by their families and society.

    3. In essence, does “genius” or wish for “intellectual fulfillment” EVER justify leaving your marriage or children.

    4. Another thought, that once you are married, your life becomes the well being and care of any children of that marriage. And that nothing outside of this, even the lack of “self-actualization” can justify abandoning this.

    5. Both Frank and Mamah were “artists” in their mental makeup. Do artists have such a strong sense of having to express themselves that they cannot justify not living a life that caters wholly to their artistic expression, family or children or society notwithstanding?

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