Monday, February 6, 2012

Loving Frank

Book Title – Loving Frank
Author – Nancy Horan
Genre – Biographical Fiction
Year Published - 2007
My rating – 6/10

Spoiler Alert!
Some parts of the review may give away the ending of the novel.

The Story

In the year 1903, Mamah  Borthwick and Edwin Cheney  hire an Architect Frank Llyod Wright to build their house. By the time the house is ready, Mamah and Frank are having an affair. They separate for a while when Mamah becomes pregnant with her husband’s second child, but soon find themselves back in each other’s lives. Mamah takes a determined and an irreversible step of leaving her children and husband to follow Frank in Europe. While she does manage to get a divorce from Edwin few years down the line, Frank’s wife Catherine doesn’t oblige. Together, Frank and Mamah build a house “Taleisin” in Wisconsin, a home they occupy in great delight for a short period of time before fate intervenes. Loving Frank is a fictionalized account of their clandestine and subsequently notorious public affair; from the time they first met till the end of their stay together, spanning nearly 11 years.

The Review

The book had the feeler of “Anna Karenina”, the Leo Tolstoy classic and honestly that’s what made me pick it up. Both speak of adultery and both conclude in  tragedy, but that’s where the similarity ends, for Mamah is no Anna.

As is obvious from its opening line, it is Mamah’s internal conflict about the various roles she plays in life and her choices that make for majority of the pages of Loving Frank.

It is always difficult to make a story out of facts. To write about a historic figure needs a lot of research and weaving a story around it even more. Frank llyods Wright is a famous name and somewhere at the footnote lays the name of Mamah Borthwick, someone he had an extra marital affair with. The Author picked up that name in the small print and came out with most interesting account of their years together. Apart from the attraction between them, their influence on each other is strongly noted in the novel.

A lot is at stake when they decide to follow their hearts. And once Mamah leaves home there is no looking back. Colorado, Europe and finally Wisconsin, she travels with a lot of internal baggage but never gives in. Her actions are of course debatable since a mother who virtually abandons her children may not gather a reader’s sympathy, let’s just say she did what she thought was right for her individual self. She chose to remain faithful to her own self first and then to her children, husband and worldly commitments.

Mamah’s admiration for the revolutionary feminist writer Ellen key and the feeling of subsequent let down is an important part of the book. Mamah travels a long way in life before she learns that to preach and to practice are two different things.

Nancy Horan takes us into an artist’s mind through this novel as well. Eccentric, Egoistic, cocky, brilliant and a visionary; Frank Wright is all of these and more. The human mind may have evolved but probably not as much because even today the quirks of an artist remain the same.

Frank is also extravagant, imaginative and capable of deceit, but Mamah seems to be able to overlook all of that and still love him. She inspires him and he supports her in her career pursuits, barring a few occasions. It is this understanding and connection between the two of them that holds the book together.

But without a doubt, the book belongs to Mamah Borthwick, the woman, who in history is worth just a mention in writings about the famous Architecht Frank Wright. In “Loving Frank”, Nancy Horan rearranges the pieces of history and knits a story that indicates Mamah was much more to Frank than just that.

It is refreshing to read about a feminist in existence, a woman with a mind of her own, way back in early 1900s. The author does a very good job of bringing out Mamah’s anguish, confusion, guilt, loneliness and ambition throughout the book.

Mamah was a feminist and an intellectual; a combination not many approved of in a woman in those days. And yet, after a passage of hundred years and a great deal of liberalization, the conflict of a woman doesn’t seem to feel any different and it is in that portrayal where Nancy Horan scores the most. 

Significant Specifics

Loving Frank is the debut novel of Nancy Horan.

The Author was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for best historical fiction in April, 2009 for her published works in the previous two years.

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