Amazon Significant Seven, August 2007
: It's a rare treasure to find a historically imagined novel that is at once fully versed in the facts and unafraid of weaving those truths into a story that dares to explore the unanswered questions. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney's love story is--as many early reviews of Loving Frank
have noted--little-known and often dismissed as scandal. In Nancy Horan's skillful hands, however, what you get is two fully realized people, entirely, irrepressibly, in love. Together, Frank and Mamah are a wholly modern portrait, and while you can easily imagine them in the here and now, it's their presence in the world of early 20th century America that shades how authentic and, ultimately, tragic their story is. Mamah's bright, earnest spirit is particularly tender in the context of her time and place, which afforded her little opportunity to realize the intellectual life for which she yearned. Loving Frank
is a remarkable literary achievement, tenderly acute and even-handed in even the most heartbreaking moments, and an auspicious debut from a writer to watch. --Anne Bartholomew
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Horan's ambitious first novel is a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright's first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century. Frank and Mamah, both married and with children, met when Mamah's husband, Edwin, commissioned Frank to design a house. Their affair became the stuff of headlines when they left their families to live and travel together, going first to Germany, where Mamah found rewarding work doing scholarly translations of Swedish feminist Ellen Key's books. Frank and Mamah eventually settled in Wisconsin, where they were hounded by a scandal-hungry press, with tragic repercussions. Horan puts considerable effort into recreating Frank's vibrant, overwhelming personality, but her primary interest is in Mamah, who pursued her intellectual interests and love for Frank at great personal cost. As is often the case when a life story is novelized, historical fact inconveniently intrudes: Mamah's life is cut short in the most unexpected and violent of ways, leaving the narrative to crawl toward a startlingly quiet conclusion. Nevertheless, this spirited novel brings Mamah the attention she deserves as an intellectual and feminist. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
In 1904, Frank Lloyd Wright started work on a house for an Oak Park couple, Edwin and Mamah Cheney, and, before long, he and Mamah had begun a scandalous affair. In her first novel, Horan, viewing the relationship from Mamah’s perspective, does well to avoid serving up a bodice-ripper for the smart set. If anything, she cleaves too faithfully to the sources, occasionally giving her story the feel of a dissertation masquerading as a novel. But she succeeds in conveying the emotional center of her protagonist, whom she paints as a proto-feminist, an educated woman fettered by the role of bourgeois matriarch. Horan best evokes Mamah’s troubled personality by means of delicately rendered reflections on the power of the natural world, from which her lover drew inspiration: watching her children rapturously observe a squirrel as it pulls apart wheat buds or taking pride in the way the house that Wright built for them in Wisconsin frames the landscape.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The Washington Post
Reviewed By Meg Wolitzer
Good ideas for novels sometimes spring nearly fully formed from life. Such is the case with Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, which details Frank Lloyd Wright's passionate affair with a woman named Mamah Cheney; both of them left their family to be together, creating a Chicago scandal that eventually ended in inexplicable violence.
It's easy to see why Horan, a former journalist and resident of Oak Park, Ill. -- where Wright was first hired to design a house for Cheney and her husband and which is home to the largest collection of Wright architecture -- found this an excellent subject. Not only are the characters memorable, the buildings are, too. Of course, like all writers of historical fiction, Horan is pinned to the whims and limits of history, which by nature can create a "story" that might easily take undramatic paths or turns. But Horan doesn't seem unduly constrained by the parameters of hard fact, and for long stretches her novel is engaging and exciting. Wright comes across as ardent, visionary and erratic, while Mamah (pronounced May-mah) is a complex person with modern ideas about women's roles in the world. In her diary, Mamah writes out a quote from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: "It is not sufficient to be a mother: an oyster can be a mother."
While it might have been hard even for an oyster to be a mother while conducting a love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright, Mamah eventually sees no way to be with him but to abandon her children:
"Mamah spoke slowly. 'Now, listen carefully. I'm going to leave tomorrow to go on a trip to Europe. You will stay here with the Browns until Papa arrives in a couple of days. I'm going on a small vacation.'
"John burst into tears. 'I thought we were on one.'
"Mamah's heart sank. 'One just for me,' she said, struggling to stay calm.
. . . Mamah lay down on the bed and pulled their small curled bodies toward her, listening as John's weeping gave way to a soft snore."
Horan takes pains to convey her protagonist's maternal guilt and ambivalence, but she also has the children haunt the story like inconvenient, pathetic ghosts.
The novel belongs to the feminist genre not only in its depiction of a woman's conflicting desires for love and motherhood and a central role in society, but also through its sophisticated -- and welcome -- focus on the topic of feminism itself. As Mamah says to a friend: "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.' "
Mamah wants a big life; for a while she is so captivated by the writings of Swedish writer and philosopher Ellen Key, a leader in what was then referred to as "the Woman Movement," that she becomes her translator. Mamah is as ardent about rights and freedoms as she is about her lover, to whom her thoughts always inevitably circle back:
" 'Frank has an immense soul. He's so . . .' She smiled to herself. 'He's incredibly gentle. Yet very manly and gallant. Some people think he's a colossal egoist, but he's brilliant, and he hates false modesty.' "
Together Mamah and Frank go off on their European jaunt, which includes appealing period details: "She would walk until her feet were screaming, then rest in cafés where artists buzzed about Modernism at the tables around her." Horan can be a very witty writer; at one point later in the book, she has Frank swatting flies with avidity, naming them before he kills them after critics who once gave him bad reviews: " 'Harriet Monroe!' Whack."
But she makes a couple of historically rooted narrative choices that are perplexingly on-the-nose. In a critical scene, Wright says, " 'I'd like to call it Taliesin, if it's all right with you. Do you know Richard Hovey's play Taliesin? About the Welsh bard who was part of King Arthur's court? He was a truth-seeker and a prophet, Taliesin was. His name meant 'shining brow.' I think it's quite appropriate.'" 'Taliesin.' She tried the word in her mouth as she studied the house in the distance."
Historical novels sometimes bump right up against the problem of how to render moments that foreshadow events of great significance. In choosing to dwell on the naming of Taliesin, in this instance, Horan gives the moment a nudge and a self-conscious emphasis. It would have been subtler and more effective to refer to the naming of the house in passing, and instead to focus on another, more muted moment of intimacy involving the creation of Taliesin.
Loving Frank is a novel of impressive scope and ambition. Like her characters, Horan is going for something big and lasting here, and that is to be admired. In writing about tenderness between lovers or describing a physical setting, she uses prose that is is knowing and natural. At other times, she allows us a glimpse of the hand of fact guiding the hand of art, taking it places where it might not necessarily have chosen to go.
Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Frank Lloyd Wright never once mentioned Mamah Cheney in his letters or autobiography; still, Nancy Horan managed to extrapolate the love affair from newspaper accounts and Mamah's letters to Ellen Key. If Loving Frank didn't hew so closely to the facts, it would read almost like a bodice ripper. Instead, it realistically depicts the opportunities and repercussions of individuals living outside of society's mores and captures the cultural and artistic philosophies of the time. While Horan reveals Wright's hubris and Mamah's intellectual selfishness, the critics, strangely enough, find both endearing. If their love affair carries a "whiff of the Hallmark section" (Christian Science Monitor) or clumsily integrates cultural icons into the narrative, these are minor complaints in this compelling story.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In the early 1900s, married architect Frank Lloyd Wright eloped to Europe with the wife of one of his clients. The scandal rocked the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. Years later, Mamah Cheney, the other half of the scandalous couple, was brutally murdered at Wright's Talliesen retreat. Horan blends fact and fiction to try to make the century-old scandal relevant to modern readers. Today Cheney and Wright would have little trouble obtaining divorces and would probably not be pursued by the press. However, their feelings of confusion and doubt about leaving their spouses and children would most likely remain the same. The novel has something for everyone—a romance, a history of architecture, and a philosophical and political debate on the role of women. What is missing is any sort of note explaining which parts of the novel are based on fact and which are imagined. This is essential in a novel dealing with real people who lived so recently. Block, Marta Segal --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Advance praise for Loving Frank
“This graceful, assured first novel tells the remarkable story of the long-lived affair between Frank Lloyd Wright, a passionate and impossible figure, and Mamah Cheney, a married woman whom Wright beguiled and led beyond the restraint of convention. It is engrossing, provocative reading.”
“It takes great courage to write a novel about historical people, and in particular to give voice to someone as mythic as Frank Lloyd Wright. This beautifully written novel about Mamah Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair is vivid and intelligent, unsentimental and compassionate.”
“I admire this novel, adore this novel, for so many reasons: The intelligence and lyricism of the prose. The attention to period detail. The epic proportions of this most fascinating love story. Mamah Cheney has been in my head and heart and soul since reading this book; I doubt she’ll ever leave.”
“Loving Frank is one of those novels that takes over your life. It’s mesmerizing and fascinating–filled with complex characters, deep passions, tactile descriptions of astonishing architecture, and the colorful immediacy of daily life a hundred years ago–all gathered into a story that unfolds with riveting urgency.”
From the Hardcover edition.