Our book club met on Sunday to discuss Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and we had the great pleasure to have Nancy visit with us by speaker phone! It was such a treat to have her attend our meeting this way. She was on her way to the airport to pick up her son but was still so gracious and kind. She thoroughly answered every question we had with humor and wit, and gave us an incredible amount of insight into her characters, the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the married woman he had an affair with, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
In 1907, both Frank and Mamah publicly and scandalously left their spouses and children (8 children between them) to go overseas for two years to carry on their affair, and continued to be together after returning home to this country. Frank built Mamah a home in Wisconsin called Taliesin, where they lived together out of wedlock until Mamah’s untimely death in 1914.
Our group enjoyed the book, but most of us disliked the flawed characters and their unpopular choices. I think we all agreed that we enjoyed the discussion it generated even more than the book, and isn’t that what a book club is for.. great discussion?
Frank, so flamboyant and eccentric, was such an egomaniac. None of us cared much for him, although we could see the attraction for Mamah. He was creative and intellectual, and he was interested in her opinion on everything. In the beginning of their relationship, Mamah mentioned her grandmother and Frank wanted to know more.
He sat down again and looked at her. ”Tell me everything,” he said.
Tell me everything. He might as well have said, “Take off your dress.”
Yes, attention is a powerful aphrodisiac. But the man was horrible with money, he didn’t pay his debts or give credit where credit was due to the people who worked for him. He lived beyond his means and bought things because he “needed to be surrounded by beauty”. In one memorable scene he bought a houseful of furniture, including three (3!!) grand pianos, all without consulting Mamah, whom he was living with at the time. Nevermind he couldn’t pay the people who were helping to build his house. Mamah, infuriated, insisted he return the pianos.
We liked Mamah a bit more, but couldn’t understand why she left her kids for years to follow Frank to Europe. Clearly she was in love with him, but her husband, Edwin Cheney, was a nice and tolerant man who allowed her to do whatever she wished. She had money, servants, freedom, friends, hobbies, household help, a caring husband and two beautiful children. She wasn’t escaping domestic hell so much as carrying on an illicit affair, and I have to say we judged her pretty harshly.
The issues Loving Frank brought up are still relevant today. We talked about feminism, a woman’s place (then and now), maternal love vs. romantic love, duty, obligation, motherhood, careers, etc. We talked about public people who’ve left their spouses for others (Brad Pitt, for instance) and how they are treated in the media. We discussed how women are treated differently from men in that regard (Britney Spears and how she’s been skewered for being a poor mother).
Some of us felt Mamah was a terrible mother for leaving her children to have a ‘bigger’ life than the domestic confines she found herself in. Others felt that her personal growth was important enough to justify leaving her kids. Some of us felt that if she had left to go on to do something great with her life, we could have been more sympathetic, but in truth all she did was follow a man around.
We had the well worn “stay at home” vs. “working” mother discussion. Some of us felt it would be less horrible to leave children behind with family to go explore other options in this day and age, with telephones and email and air travel. In Mamah’s day, it took a month to go overseas, and there was no such thing as text messaging, IM’s or digital pictures to keep us up to date and connected to our loved ones who are separated from us. All they had at that time was the painstakingly slow pace of the postal service or telegrams- it took weeks just to receive a letter.
SO.. Loving Frank is a good book- and a really good book for a book club. Ms. Horan did extensive research and then convincingly fleshed out her characters through fictional dialogue and situations that seemed very true and believable. It’s historical fiction at it’s best. If you want to spark a great discussion with your book group, I would highly recommend it .
Oh, I almost forgot- we had some awesome food! What’s a book club meeting without good eats?? We decided on a European theme (where the lovers spent 2 years), so we had Pasta e Fagioli soup, bruschetta, some kind of cheesy broccoli pasta casserole, chicken sausage, Boston Crème Pie (not European, but who cares), and (of course) Chardonnay. Tasty.
If you’ve read Loving Frank, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you’ve reviewed it, let me know and I’ll link it here.
Filed under: book clubs, Book Reviews, books, food, friends, historical fiction, reading, Reading Groups, Relationships, weekends Tagged: | book club, book clubs, book groups, Book Reviews, books, frank lloyd wright, historical fiction, loving frank, mamah borthwick cheney, nancy horan, reading, Reading Groups