At first, Mamah Cheney knew Frank Lloyd Wright as the brilliant architect who was going to design her new house. While he did, they developed a close friendship, but on realizing their bounds, stepped away from each other purposely. It didn’t last long and soon they fell headlong into an affair that shocked both their families and the world. Both Mamah and Frank struggle to find their identities in the face of a hostile world and their own love.
I thought I was going to enjoy this far more than I did and to be honest it was a disappointing work that didn’t meet its full potential. The idea of humanizing and developing the love story between one of America’s greatest architects and his mistress, who appears to have been more or less reviled at the time, is at first a great one, and the book starts out promisingly. The characters struggle with the damage they’ve done to their families and themselves in the name of a “free love” which no one can understand but them.
By the time Frank and Mamah start to explore Europe, though, they had lost me. For one thing, Mamah is not a very sympathetic character. She places the discovery of the meaning of her life before her children and before Frank and it’s difficult to agree with her choice when it involves merely translating another woman’s works. Did she really have to seek out solitude and hurt everyone she loved for something that she could have done in their presence? Moreover, I didn’t like the philosophies that Ellen Key espoused and to be honest, didn’t like Ellen herself, and wished Mamah had the fortitude to write herself rather than give a voice to someone else. These are doubts that she herself struggles with, and even that bothered me to an extent. Much of this book is wrapped up in Mamah’s thoughts, regretting what she’d done and who she’d hurt, yet largely failing to right any wrongs she thought she had committed.
Frank isn’t much better, as he is brilliant but something of a wastrel, spending money on extravagances, going to faraway places, and even at times pushing Mamah into his ideal vision. This is a book with characters so flawed that they got on my nerves, and while that may be realistic, it does mean I had trouble going back to the book and concluded my dislike for it. It didn’t help that I hated the ending. Honestly, this is a true story, so I feel like it’s wrong to say that, because it would also have irked me if Nancy Horan had made up something else.
In the end, I didn’t like the characters, didn’t like where the story wound up, and didn’t like the philosophical dilemmas in between. Loving Frank was not a book for me.