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437 of 460 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 17, 2007 4:02:02 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 17, 2007 4:09:36 PM PDT
Andrea Hall says:
Re Barbara Pinzka's review: I found her comment at the end of the review to be interesting. There is surely enough in the non-fiction world to draw the true story of FLW, in any part of his incredible life, so that the question of which is the novelist's invention, for convenience sake, never need arise with the Reader. The term, "Historical Romance" seems to me to be an oxymoron. . Which is it? If indeed it is"history,' then the required" Bibliographies" and" Sources" are time consuming beyond belief, a step that most writers of "historical romance" are able to avoid, by calling their work a "novel," but for which historians and their readers hold an immeasurable amount of respect. The writing of biographies carries with it an enormous burden and obligation, on the part of the writer, to be faithful to the spirit of the subject to the best
of her/his ability. In my opinion, the" invention of facts" to flesh out a script, should remove the word "historical" from its description.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2007 9:47:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 20, 2007 2:08:31 PM PDT
If you're counting Mamah Cheney as one of Frank Lloyd Wright's wives (personally, I don't as they were never married), then FLW had FOUR wives; he was legally married THREE times. Mamah, and three legal wives: Catherine Lee Clark Tobin (married in 1889), Miriam Noel, married in 1923, and Olga Milanoff Hinzenberg (married in 1928). FLW and Cheney lived together for five years. After her death, her husband married again, though of course, they were already divorced before Mamah's death.

"Ellen Keyes" is actually Ellen Key (Ellen Karolina Sofia Key), the Swedish feminist, who eventually turned against Mamah because she had left her children.

I like your review, though I think I feel very differently about Mamah and FLW. I can't really find much beyond architecture to admire in FLW and nothing to admire in Mamah, though I felt sorry she suffered such a terrible end. I saw both FLW and Mamah as terribly self-indulgent and spoiled. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and didn't care who got hurt or how badly. Still, I found myself almost mesmerized by the book, which is a testament to Horan's writing.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 7:55:12 AM PST
I agree; there's plenty to be found about FLW. But what were Horan's sources re: Mamah Borthwick and the feminists with whom she associated? I know how to do scholarly research, but why force the task upon me?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2008 8:09:22 AM PST
Thanks for the factual corrections to my post. No doubt I fell victim to the enormous efforts of FLW's last wife, who sought vigorously to erase all evidence of her predecessors and obscure negative facts about FLW himself from the historical record. As just one example, the famous Falling Waters house in PA, while initially FLW's concept, was made possible only by the skills of his staff -- and even then the house needs constant maintenance just to exist (a common fate of FLW buildings).

I agree that one's opinion of the affair may vary according to the reader's personal values. I felt, however, that Horan's description of the anguish with which FLW and MB made their decisions to abandon their families showed that the union was not entered into lightly, and the fact that Wright's wife refused to divorce him, preventing a marriage of the two, showed that they would have done "the right thing" had it been possible.

I, too, find FLW as a person to be less than attractive, and simply admire his architecture. MB, however, I see as an interesting albeit tragic victim of her times, in which a woman of intellect was seen all-too-often as an oddity to be feared.

Posted on Feb 13, 2008 4:56:56 AM PST
jeanette says:
barbara - i love love love the typo or freudian slip in your first paragraph "the women in his wife". i hope you leave it in.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2008 6:19:33 PM PDT
I agree with your comment relating to adding sources. I found the book quite interesting but would like to read further about FLW. I think a reasonable bibliography would've added much to the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 14, 2008 8:38:16 PM PDT
J. Ashton says:
I wholeheartedly agree with Pinzka's view of Mamah. I see young women today having no understanding of the women's movement of the 1970s- muchless an understanding of what the women in Mamah's generation experienced. Remember that writer's such as Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (to name the most well-known) were ridiculed,denounced and virtually unpublished (at least their more provocative works) until the 1970s. We may feel badly about Mamah's choices and tend to judge her, but it is when one's choices are so difficult because of the polarizing elements in society that the strong among us take chances and go against the stream of societal expectations.

Posted on Aug 8, 2009 5:37:50 PM PDT
I've just finished reading "Loving Frank" and pretty much agree with Barbara Pinzka's review. During the 2 1/2 days that it took me to read the book, if I wasn't actually reading it, I was thinking about it and since finishing it last night, I've been re-hashing it in my mind. Many times during Horan's story I wondered if Mamah was going to suddenly be horrified to realize that she had made a ghastly mistake - that the price she had had to pay for her decision to leave her husband and children was just too high; to say nothing of what it did to her two dear little children.
Leaping ahead in my thoughts, I feared for her, thinking that such a realization would be too much to bear. At the same time, I was afraid that Frank was being less than honest with her. Needless to say, I could hardly wait to get to the next page. I was not familiar with any biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and was totally unaware of the tragic end to this affair. When I got to that part, I audibly gasped! I was shocked! But Horan did a great job of bringing an end to this story. I loved the book and will surely be thinking of it for a long time to come. My guess is that before too long, I'll also want to read more about Frank Lloyed Wright (BER/Beverly MA 8/08/09)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2009 10:57:39 PM PDT
Shocking, isn't it? I must have had my guard down. I agree that it should stay in, as an example of the id parading through life and as a Professor Freud.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2009 12:27:04 AM PDT
The best-regarded bio of FLW is "Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography," by Meryle Secrest Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, rated 4 out of 5 stars by 9 Amazon readers. There are lots of book about his architecture, however, although they are generally expensive because of the high number of finely rendered color photos. FLW lived to be almost 93 (6/8/1867-4/9/1959; imagine living through all those changes in the world and society!) and was active until his death, only 6 months before the opening of perhaps his best surviving commercial work, the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.
(Anecdotes about his life appear in many other biographies, as you'll see if you enter a search for FLW bios and then ask for the most relevant books.)
The problem which has faced all FLW biographers is trying to gather accurate info. He tightly wove the strands of his image and routinely presented his history as he wanted it be. Associates and followers now based at Taliesin/West, his winter home, near Phoenix, AZ, a productive architecture collaborative and training center, are almost cult-like in their devotion to the man and his legacy. As in FLW's day, they're likely to design the building they think FLW would think you need, not necessarily what you want.
Lastly, FLW's third wife, Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg, destroyed any material she could find that cast a negative light on her husband. Thus is the biographer challenged.
There are bios other than Secrest's on the market. As far as I could see on the first three pages of the Amazon "relevancy" search, they are inclined to by be FLW unswerving admirers or peripheral to his life. Reader, get out the salt shaker.
BTW, Taliesin/West is open to the public at scheduled times for tours (don't make jokes or comments and resist being very inquisitive, I learned. The hard way.). If you're interested in FLW, the time and cost are well worth it, as is a stop at the gift show that contains many hard-to-get materials re: FLW's work.
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