Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Loving Frank

This is the first piece of fiction I've read in months, and I read it at my mother's suggestion. It's a novelization of the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and his long-time mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

Borthwick and Wright met when he designed a new house for her and her husband, the upright and staid Edwin Cheney. Wright and Borthwick's affair started during the planning for the garage addition to the house and continued for years afterwards.

I had a very hard time working up any sympathy for Borthwick. While I know women in 1910 had few options in terms of career and life choices, and I know she was desperate to be more than just a housewife and mother in Oak Park, Illinois, I can't justify her choice to abandon her children. She tiptoed out before dawn one morning, leaving her children sleeping at the home of a long-time friend, so that she could join Wright on a trip to Europe. She ended up staying in Europe for more than two years, not seeing her children once during that time.

According to the book, their affair caused quite the scandal for years - both when it was discovered and when they moved in together at Taliesin, the home Wright built in Wisconsin. Wright lost contracts and clients because of their relationship. The families on both sides, his and hers, were devastated by the furore.

Basically, you get the impression from this book that Wright was not the nicest of men. He refused to pay workers, telling them they should be honored to contribute to his genius. He wanted students to skip formal training and instead work in his studio, for no pay, just for the opportunity to study at his feet. Borthwick gave up her family to be with him and to pursue a career as a translator for a European women's rights writer. They were both just so selfish, and I had a hard time with that.

I ruined the ending for myself accidentally. I went to the Taliesin Web site to see what the house looked like and then went to Wikipedia hoping for more pictures. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry gave away a very surprising ending. If you don't already know what happened and intend to read the book, DON'T do any research.

Even though I knew what was going to happen, the ending left me gasping and devastated. And that's all I'll say.

1 comment:

Lela said...

I read that ending in bed and nearly couldn't fall asleep I was so shocked. Totally unexpected, unless you know the history. People in my book club shared your opinion of Mamah. I had a little more compassion, but couldn't understand how she could leave her kids.