If it hurts everyone you love, it is not okay – Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

August 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm 3 comments

This book is well-written and I would suggest reading it.  But it was a tough one for me for a lot of reasons.

In this historical fiction novel, Horan has tackled Mamah Borwick’s affair with Frank Lloyd Wright and she does a phenomenal job.  But what Horan can’t do, is make two fairly unlikable people likeable. But she does try ever so hard.

Mamah and Frank Lloyd Wright are both married, to other people. They both have children, with other people.  But as this tale always seems to go they fall in love with each other.  And of course the story is off and running.  Mamet takes her children from her home in Chicago to stay with her very pregnant friend in Colorado for the summer.  But what about her great love for Frank? Oh, don’t worry.  The day after her friend has her baby, Mamah leaves her children and rushes to meet Frank in Europe.  She does not see her children for almost two years but instead spends the time finding herself – first in the affair with Frank and then in translating feminist essays for Ellen Key into English.  Meanwhile back in Chicago, reporters hound her family and Frank’s family.  Mamah’s sister is left taking care of the children and her husband finally files a divorce for desertion.  While Mamah and Frank seem to love each other their relationship is volatile  and selfish.  The relationship seemed to inspire Frank’s art but it does not end happily – though it becomes destructive in a way no one could have imagined.

Throughout the novel, Horan mainly focuses on Mamah and her quest to find true happiness.  She does a brilliant job of couching Mamah’s seeming self-absorption with excuses.  She is stuck in a very limiting time for women – they were property, they were often stuck in the stark definitions of mother and wife.  Mamah wants to vote and be heard.  She wants her happiness to matter. But even Horan’s brilliant spin makes this hard to swallow.  I could not overcome the heartbreak she brought on her children and her sister.  I could not overcome the fact that Frank and Mamah seemed to believe that their happiness and finding their true selves was the most important thing – everyone else be damned.

We all have things that we think we could have been given the right chance, the right circumstance, or the right amount of money.  We all have things we think would make us happier.  But as we grow older our lives become more and more intertwined with others – spouses, children, aging parents.  We become responsible, we become integral to the happiness of others.  Though arguably this can be limiting, it is also amazing and meaningful.  Marriages do end.  People cheat.  People act horribly towards each other. But at the end of the day, I think the question is can the cost of any one person’s happiness be worth hurting everyone she loves? And if so, how can that really be happiness.  Horan’s writing does not fail, it is just really a story about selfishness and that is a hard one to sell.


Entry filed under: August 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

Carnies are scary after all – The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Calling it “A Reliable Wife” means a reliable story…I guess.

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Miriam  |  August 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I have always hated Bridges of Madison County for the same reasons: self absorbed characters are too often glorified. Amen.

  • 2. Mary  |  August 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    “But at the end of the day, I think the question is can the cost of any one person’s happiness be worth hurting everyone she loves? And if so, how can that really be happiness.” Exactly.

    Sincerely, (Again) The Person Who Made You Buy This Book.

  • 3. Claire Ady  |  July 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    I didn’t know the story behind all this, so as I was reading it I was wondering how her family had turned out. I guess we’ll never know. In the end she didn’t seem to really be in pursuit of her happiness and freedom as such, just of Frank, at that seemed a shame. Especially since we know it didn’t seem to take him that long to get over her and she was one of many women he “loved”


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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