Monday, March 28, 2011

Loving Frank: a Novel by Nancy Horan and The Women by T.C. Boyle

In celebration of Taliesin’s 100th anniversary, the Milwaukee Art Museum is offering an exhibit featuring Frank Lloyd Wright as the organic architect of the 21st century. He was one of the first to look at harmony with the environment, and is considered to be the greatest American architect, even by himself: “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose arrogance.”

Interesting as the architect was, the man was more fascinating. I first chose Loving Frank: a Novel by Nancy Horan because my father’s name was Frank. But the Frank of the novel was nothing like my father. Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius, no doubt, but not a very good father. Wright fell in love with Mamah Cheney when he was designing a home for her and her husband. Though both were married with children, they began a secret affair that outraged Oak Park and changed their lives. They fled to Europe and eventually returned to Wisconsin where Taliesin was built for Mamah as a retreat from the scandal created by their adulterous affair. She is the woman Wright refers to as “faithful comrade” in his autobiography.
Nancy Horan lived in Oak Park, Illinois, and having heard the rumors about Wright and Cheney, spent years doing research. This novel blends fiction with the facts she uncovered. I found it fascinating!

When T.C. Boyle wrote The Women in 2009 I had to read that as well. Boyle asks the question: Is it easy to live with a genius? He attempts to answer, using tempestuous experiences of the four women who loved Wright. He describes Wright’s life as “one long, howling struggle against the bonds of convention.” Kitty Tobin was the young first wife with whom he had six children. Wright’s affair with Mamah Cheney caused them to flee to Europe, the scandal virtually destroyed Wright’s ability to practice architecture in the U.S. Maude Miriam Noel’s pursuit of Wright began when she sent a letter of condolence to Wright after the Taliesin tragedy. She was wife number two and much of the plot revolves around her jealous antics. She was a southern belle and morphine addict, an interesting combination. The story actually begins with wife number three Olga Ivanovna Milanov, writer, dancer, and philosopher. She and Wright lived in comparative domestic tranquility. She was a Montenegrin beauty whom Wright’s apprentices called “The Dragon Lady.”
T. C. Boyle lives near Santa Barbara, California, in the George C. Stewart house, Wright’s first California design.

The Taliesin site lists Dubuque as 1½ hours away. I think a road trip would be fun!

~ Betty, Adult Services

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