The story told in Nancy Horan's anticipated debut, Loving Frank, is familiar to many who have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright: He left his wife, who would not grant him a divorce, for another married woman. After running away together to Europe in 1909, they returned to live in Wisconsin at Taliesin, the house that Frank built for her. Now, after all these years, we have the story from the perspective of that married woman, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
As with any well-done account of a well-known story, it is hard to tell where the facts leave off and fiction begins. Loving Frank presents a fine picture of the woman who loved Wright the thoughts that Horan puts into Mamah's head ring true, especially those regarding Frank's wife. Mamah had no illusions anymore that they could one day sit down and talk. Catherine would go on withholding herself, refusing to compromise, keeping Mamah an illicit' woman until they were all dust. The price both of them had paid for loving Frank was dear indeed. For readers who don't have more than a passing interest in subjects such as feminism, Italy or Frank's architectural philosophies, there may be times when the narrative slows. But Horan, a former journalist who lived for 24 years in Oak Park, Illinois, near many of the architect's most famous buildings, has a fluid writing style that is likely to carry even the most reluctant reader through her story. She gives us Frank's ideals of truth and honesty in living, and imagines how they might have been shared by Mamah. Considering the era, it was an immense sacrifice for her to follow the man she loved, especially when his wife would not grant him a divorce.
It is one thing to read of Mamah's tragic end in a paragraph or two embedded in the many accomplishments of Frank Lloyd Wright. But it is quite another to read about it after feeling you've come to know her, and that is the power of this beautiful love story.