In 1904, architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house for Edwin and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, respectable members of Oak Park, IL, society. Five years later, after a clandestine affair, Frank and Mamah scandalized that society by leaving their families to live together in Europe. Stunned by the furor, Mamah wanted to stay there, particularly after she met women's rights advocate Ellen Key, who rejected conventional ideas of marriage and divorce. Eventually, Frank convinced her to return to Wisconsin, where he was building Taliesin as a home and retreat. Horan's extensive research provides substantial underpinnings for this engrossing novel, and the focus on Mamah lets readers see her attraction to the creative, flamboyant architect but also her recognition of his arrogance. Mamah's own drive to achieve something important is tinged with guilt over abandoning her children. Tentative steps toward reconciliation end in a shocking, violent conclusion that would seem melodramatic if it weren't based on true events. The plot, characters, and ideas meld into a novel that will be a treat for fans of historical fiction but should not be pigeonholed in a genre section.My coworker warned me not to Google the real-life characters in this book, so I wouldn't ruin the ending for myself. I've kept this in mind, but now I'm glad I didn't read any reviews either because there are a lot of spoilers out there! Tragic conclusion - oh my!
I'm enjoying this book for several reasons. Mamah is a strong, independent woman, particularly for the early 1900s. She was fighting for suffrage, and searching for meaning in her life. She loves her children but isn't defined by them, and struggles with what to do in a loveless marriage. While I would never promote a married woman to have an affair, I find it so fascinating that in this time, when divorce was hardly the norm, Mamah and Frank did what they did. Mamah struggles with her actions - running away to be with Frank - but I'm not sure if she suffers enough (at least as of now as I'm only halfway through the book). But she firmly believes love conquerors all. And while I can be a romantic, I think she shouldn't forget her responsibilities back home. Could a mother really leave her young children behind like that - no matter how unhappy you are in a marriage? It just screams selfish to me.
But, even if I feel Mamah is selfish and making some tragic choices for a woman of her time, she's still an empathetic character and a woman some may admire. Also, being from Minnesota, it's interesting to read more about Frank Llyod Wright. As the review says, he's from the Midwest - the prairie and nature were his muses - and we have several Wright and Wright-inspired homes in the Twin Cities.
How do you feel about historical fiction? Is it hard to decifer the truth from the fact? Or don't you care?