lundi 14 septembre 2009

Books I've been reading lately seem to be similarly preoccupied with certain themes though not necessarily of the same time frame. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is not the usual historical fiction that I normally pick up to read but it sounded intriguing so I didn’t hesitate too long before starting it. The Frank in the title is Frank Lloyd Wright, the celebrated architect whose work revolutionized architecture and ushered in the field’s modern age. The book deals with a rather scandalous episode of his life when he and the wife of a client, Mamah (pronounced May-muh) Borthwick Cheney fall madly in love after he is commissioned to build their house. The lovers flee to Europe and leave their respective families. Needless to say, their affair wreaks havoc on their respective home lives, Wright’s career and virtually destroys Mamah Cheney’s reputation. The book details the trajectory of their relationship until its ultimately tragic ending.

Such a subject matter could have easily turned mawkish and overly sentimental if not for Horan’s careful portrait of Mamah. She doesn’t overly deal with sentimentality or emotion. Instead she paints a portrait of a woman who is constrained by the roles imposed on her by society. During the early years of the 20th century, women were supposed to be wives and mothers but not much else. It was a time of great agitation for greater female emancipation and participation in society, lead by such stalwarts as Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Emma Goldman and the Swedish feminist Ellen Key. Mamah with her husband and children was an aberration of those times because she wasn’t content with her lot. Though as her sister Liz, later acidly points out, “she had the kind of life most feminists would dream of having.” And the price Mamah pays indeed for daring to break free of the mold and insist on a kind of self-realization was a high one. At the end of the book, Horan leaves it up to us to decide whether such her act was worth the price exerted on her.

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