I always seem to have a list of books to read, and often a stack by my bedside that beckons me as well. Last week I finished reading Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. It is a fictionalized account of the affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The story begins with their business relationship (Mamah and her husband, Edwin, commissioned Wright to build them a home in Oak Park) which eventually leads to their affair.
I was immediately drawn into the story and Mamah’s voice, but soon found myself deeply troubled by the decisions Mamah (pronounced May-mah) was making. At the time of the affair she had two young children, John and Martha. Her husband also adored her even if he didn’t fully understand her. As much as I applaud Mamah for speaking out about women’s issues in the early 1900s, and wanting to use her gifts as a scholar, I couldn’t help but feel the selfishness and short-sightness of her decisions. Rightly or wrongly, she chose to get married and to have children, and those choices came with certain responsibilities. When Mamah tells her close friend, Mattie, about the affair and her thoughts of leaving Edwin for Frank, her friend pushes back with, “What about honor and duty?” Yes, Mamah, what about those two?
The novel ends tragically and certainly doesn’t paint the affair as a rose garden. Yes, there are moments of happiness and two souls (Frank and Mamah) who understand one another, but what a price to pay! The spouses, the children of both parties, and extended family and friends all pay dearly as a result of the affair.
I am grateful that my marriage is so unlike the marriage of Edwin and Mamah’s. I can thankfully say that I am fulfilled in my marriage, and I am married to a man who understands me and loves me deeply. That’s not to say my marriage fulfills my every need within me (or my spouse). Still, I can only imagine how unfulfilled some people are in their marriages. Because Horan does a good job of showing the real longings of an unfulfilled spouse and the great damage that comes from pursuing an affair in search of something better, I believe the book might be a difficult read for someone who feels unfulfilled or misunderstood in marriage.