One of my favorite parts of the Junior League of Charlottesville is our book club. We get together with snacks and wine to discuss books ranging from the latest Young Adult bestseller to books on topics like small business ownership, running a nonprofit, or self-improvement. It’s become a great way to not only spend time with friends, but discover books I may not have reached for on my own.
Our most recent book club book was
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.
Loving Frank chronicles the love affair of Mamah Borthwick and architect Frank Lloyd Wright during early twentieth century America. While it’s a fictional account, it is based on research by Nancy Horan on Mamah and her life, particularly the years between 1907 and 1914. I was familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work before reading this book, but knew little of his personal life. Loving Frank was definitely enlightening.
The story begins with Mamah blaming her husband, Edwin, for everything. Edwin is a good man – he’s a good husband, father, and provider, but he also took in Mamah’s niece, Jessie, after her mother died, and allowed Mamah’s other sister, Lizzie, an unmarried school teacher, to live with them. It was Edwin who insisted they hire Frank to design their home, which is how Frank and Mamah meet.
As the story progressed, I found both Mamah and Frank highly unlikeable, despite enjoying the story. I didn’t want to put the book down, and spent a whole Saturday afternoon reading a large part of it.
From a creative standpoint, Frank is brilliant. His work is masterful. As a father and husband, he is sorely lacking. He is overly devoted to his work, and at one point in the story, makes a grand speech about why he must have nice things around him, even when he can’t afford to pay his employees. He’s exuberant and manipulative, but I do think he truly loved Mamah. I think he even had a soft spot for her two children with Edwin, John and Martha.
As much as I didn’t like Frank, I disliked Mamah even more. While I appreciated her intelligence and her independence streak, particularly for the time period, I found her incredibly selfish and at times, a too woe-is-me. I couldn’t get over the fact that she left her children to gallivant around Europe with Frank, then chose to stay in Europe even longer under the pretense of learning another language and translating the work of Ellen Key. She spends a fair amount of time pondering how much she misses them, but that wasn’t enough for me.
While I found redeeming qualities in Frank, I didn’t find them in Mamah. I understood her not wanting to be a housewife and the fact that their affair had created such a large scandal made things difficult, but I kept wishing for her to step up and own her mistakes. She kind of sort of does, but never really says “I messed up” in a capacity that matters. Ultimately, she becomes a housewife – without the legal “wife” title – for Frank, the very thing she was resisting while married to Edwin.
I initially felt my thoughts on Mamah in particular had a lot to do with my own belief system and moral compass, but it turned out that the girls in book club all agreed – Mamah wasn’t very likable.
I didn’t see the ending of the book coming. Those of you familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal history will. The ending came quickly and violently and left me in tears. It was the last few chapters of the book that made me soften towards Frank, if only slightly.
Even though I didn’t like the main characters, I really enjoyed Loving Frank. It was a well-researched novel that reminded me a bit of
The Paris Wife. If you belong to a book club – or want to start one! – this is a great pick – I really enjoyed discussing it with my friends.
I’m currently reading
Setting The Tableby Danny Meyers while also slowly plowing through the second
Game of Thronesbook. Those Starks have me all worried. Waiting in the wings are
Grace Not Perfection,
You Are a Badass,
All The Light We Cannot See, and
The Last of the Southern Girls.
While I’m enjoying the spring-like temperatures, I need a big snowstorm to blow through so I can stay home and read through all of these books!
What are you reading right now? Anything I need to add to the multiple sticky note list stuck to the inside of my planner?