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Fascinating look at the internal life of Wright and his lover
, September 11, 2007
This review is from: Loving Frank: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have studied the work and bio of Frank Lloyd Wright for many years, even traveling to his Western headquarters, Taliesen West, and touring homes he built in four cities. I was well aware of his strengths and faults, but little has been published about the women in his wife, other than his domineering, smothering mother and his strident, domineering third (and last) wife. (I'm counting Mamah Borthwick, his lover for about a half-dozen years, as a second wife, since they would have married if his first wife had granted him a divorce; he and Borthwick lived together for several years).
Wright's towering ego is well known and well documented. By choosing to look at Wright and his work through the eyes of Mamah, his lover, in this fictionalized historical tale, Horan brings new insight into the demons and angels that inspired his vision. Wright's well-documented narcissism and inability to control himself personally is examined as well, but not as the fatal flaws offered by most biographers, but as components of an immensely complex and genius personality.
Mamah's (first) husband was first to see Wright's vision but Mamah was the one to embrace it wholly as Wright set about building them a home in Oak Park, not far from his own house. Wright was a star on the rise at that time, accepting commissions almost faster than he could manage them, but the affair he and Mamah embarked upon, which caused her to abandon her children, led to considerable scandal and major setbacks to his business.
Mamah was a recognized scholar and intellect until she was subsumed into a loveless marriage by the conventions of the time. In Wright she found the outlet for her passions and the independence she longed for, and the support and acceptance to rebuild her professional life, which became linked with that of the feminist Swedish scholar Ellen Keyes. Mamah's story, and that of the feminists of her time, is largely lost to history, and for reminding us of those seminal and important figures alone Horan deserves a deep bow.
Horan's work also exumes many litle-known facts about Wright and his times: his love for rural Wisconsin, where he grew up; his fascination with Japan and business in buying and selling Japanese antiguities; and his admiration for the classic Tuscan homes of northern Italy. As this book documents the times in which Wright was shaping his own vision with the help and guidance of Mamah, we can better understand the architecture for which he became so famous.
For those familiar with Wrights biography, the tragic end to his and mamah's affair is well known. For others, it will come as a shock. Horan is simply masterful in describing the events as they must have occurred.
I enjoyed the book tremendously, but I have one major quibble: Horan offers little documentation for her narrative for the reader who might want to learn as much as she does. As one generally familiar with the story I find it authemtic, but an appendix elaborating on the sources Horan used would add to the book's credibility.
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