Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Tonight’s book club. Yippee! This month’s book was Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. It wasn’t top on my list of picks, but I’ll admit I stayed up an extra hour Sunday night to finish. Tough ending, that one, but then if you know the story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick (Cheney), you know it’s coming. (You’re just kind of curious how the author will handle it!)

A real plus for the book was the Chicago/Wisconsin setting. Also, while I’ve not been to Taliesen in Spring Green, I have been to the western version near Arizona. I am familiar with his architecture through a couple of friends that have found it compelling. A good acquaintance lived across the street from one of his designs in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Also, the book mentions Jens Jensen, the founder of The Clearing. He and Wright worked together on a few things.

I think I know enough about his work and personal story to say I’m not really a fan. The scale of his buildings often feels wrong to me. And of course his personal life was one heck of mess. In particular, he allowed his self-professed genius to get in the way of little things like paying bills.

The book, though fictionalized in dialogue, does a great job of articulating how frustrating it must have been to live with a man like that. The story flowed easily. The ending was appropriately heart wrenching. I could never develop the appropriate empathy for Mamah Borthwick, though. When I was supposed to be grieving with her because she was separated from her children I thought, “you selfish twit.” When she was stretched out dead on Wright’s sister’s table, I failed to muster the expected sadness.

Tonight should be an interesting discussion. The club has a standing hostility towards characters that abandon their children to find their own way. (You’d be surprised how often that’s still a theme in popular literature!) Preliminary discussion at last week’s Haute Taco outing suggested a different take this time, though. There was sympathy from one or two who had already read about Mamah and her decision to hit the road with Wright. Can’t wait to hear it all out.

It was well written and an interesting subject. I think I’d like to do a little more research about Ellen Key, the Swedish feminist that Borthwick knew. Still, the book isn’t high on my list of recommended reads.


  1. Cindy, before you make your verdict on Wright’s style, i think you should take a trip to Oak Park, IL to see a Wright smorgasbord, and then swing on down to Robie House in Hyde Park Chicago (I know, I know, so very close to the Obama pad).

    I’m not a fan of some of his stuff, but Unity Temple in Oak Park won me over. Go see it!