Writing historical fiction must be one of the most challenging endeavors novelists face. Besides picking characters that will appeal to readers, unless she’s writing strictly plot-oriented bodice-buster romances about shirtless pirates, the historical novelist must be meticulous about period detail and the basic facts of her characters’ lives if she hopes to create convincing stories.
Nancy Horan succeeds remarkably in her first novel, Loving Frank, which imagines the circumstances of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s long-term affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney from their initial meeting through to the tragic end of their relationship, primarily from Cheney’s point of view. The mother of two but intellectually dissatisfied in her marriage and home life, Cheney’s attraction for Wright develops as the two share thoughts and ideas about the renovations Wright is completing on her home. Wright falls in love with Cheney, and the two pursue a passionate, intellectual affair.
To escape scandal at home, Cheney joins Frank Lloyd Wright in Europe, where he is completing several projects, and she becomes involved with the feminist Ellen Key, translating her radical ideas about women’s freedom and “free love.” But even another continent and intellectual fulfillment can’t protect Cheney from her sense of loneliness, nor can it stop the rumors and reports of the scandal from reaching her. Eventually, the pair returns home, where Wright begins building their dream home, Taliesin.
Period details, exquisite descriptions of Wright’s architecture and ideals, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s perspective make this fictionalization of their relationship a superior, gripping work of historical fiction and a superb example for writers aspiring to novelize the past.
Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.