Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review 1: Loving Frank

frank, mamah and taliesin home in wisconsin

I picked up this book thinking it was the one about Frank Lloyd Wright and his group of students in Taliesi--a book allegedly filled with gossip about the architect’s manipulative third wife, their sex-starved daughter and the sexual romps of his apprentices after years of isolation in the countryside (who doesn’t like a good sex story.)

However, that book is called The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and The Taliesin Fellowship. And the book I bought was Loving Frank by Nancy Horan; a fictionalized true story about the love affair between Mamah Borthwick and Frank Lloyd Wright. Mamah and Frank fall in love when she and her husband commission a home from the architect in Chicago. They end up causing a giant scandal amongst the society people by eloping together. After a tormented yet romantic European adventure they move to Taliesin, the house in Spring Green, Wisconsin. You want to root for both of the characters throughout the story but unfortunately their selfishness gets in the way. About the guilt of leaving a husband she did not love Mamah thinks ' itself is too short, so precious. To live dishonestly seemed a cowardly way to use up one's time...(life) had given her extraordinary gifts. (Her children) Matha and John were that. And had bestowed her another kind of love that was both erotic and nourishing. To embrace Frank, to accept the gift, seemed to be an affirmation of life'

She can put it anyway she likes, but to acknowledge she was hurting her children, neither more than eight years of age in this case, by abandoning them to embrace this other gift life bestowed her, it’s hard to feel compassionate. She also carelessly wrecked her single sister's life by bestowing upon her the responsibility of picking up the pieces of her failed marriage and the care of her children.

Wright is not painted in the most likable light either. He consistently behaves as if he is above the common man and considers himself a genius, which considering the legacy he left behind we can agree he was, but he not only leaves his family behind but spins a giant web of debts. He believes that working with/for him is a privilege in itself. The author speculates that Frank's first wife, Katherine, may have been so difficult in granting him a divorce because she was afraid she was not going to see a penny from him.

The book itself is written well, a bit zappy at times; but it’s a love story after all. It best works when Mamah is reflective about her life choices. Other times it feels like connect-the-dots. The German Modernist movement of the early 20th century is explored in no more than a page!

The end was unexpected given I had not heard about their story before. All I’ll say is that I ended up regretting having judged them so harshly, and genuinely wished them happiness and peace after what they had put themselves and others through. They deserved each other, after all.

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