Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

Lloyd Wright made his mark on America through his groundbreaking architecture, but do you know anything else about the man?

I didn’t, until I read “Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan. Now, I’m a bit obsessed with learning more about him and the woman named Mamah Borthwick, who is at the heart of this story.

The book is a novel, but the people in it were real. What makes it a novel is the fictionalization that took place to create conversations and thoughts that there is no record to provide.

Horan did a brilliant job with this, and what makes the story she wrote even more incredible is that “Loving Frank” was her first novel.

Horan delved into a chapter in Wright’s long and illustrious life in which he fell in love with a married woman while he was also married, the two of them essentially abandoned their spouses and children to travel and study overseas for a long time, and they built and made a home for themselves in Wisconsin only to have everything tragically taken from them when Mamah, her children, and four others were viciously murdered.

Yes, they were murdered. It happened at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Wisconsin that he’d been building for him and Mamah and that is now the base of operations for the foundation dedicated to his works. If you were very surprised to learn this, you are not alone. I couldn’t believe it myself.

Here is the summary of it taken from the website franklloydwright.org: “In August 1914, Wright’s life with Mamah was tragically closed as she, her two children and four others were killed in a brutal attack and fire, intentionally started by an angry Taliesin domestic employee.”

One sentence. That’s all this tragic event receives on the website. The murders don’t take up much of the book, either. Instead, the focus is on Mamah and Frank \h— who they were, their dreams and drives, their passion for their work and their families even while away from them, and their love for each other.

Mamah was a brilliant multi-lingual translator who left her own mark on the world of literature through her translations of Swedish philosopher Ellen Key’s feminist pieces at a time when those ideas were both novel and needed.

She and Frank suffered professionally from their affair, but he rebounded nicely over time and managed to create a lasting legacy. One can only imagine what Mamah Borthwich might have accomplished if she hadn’t been killed.

While their relationship was scandalous and did, in fact, hurt innocent people, I can understand the draw Frank had upon Mamah after reading this great book. They were both deep-thinking artists in their own right, and artists are often misunderstood during their lifetimes.

Add in the fact that Mamah was a woman at a time when women weren’t valued much for their intellectual abilities and you can begin to empathize with her need to do more with her life than be married and raise children.

Even though much of “Loving Frank” had to be fictionalized to create the complete story, I’m glad Horan wrote this book. Through it, Mamah Borthwick can live on despite the tragic way in which she died, and perhaps she can be remembered as more than a short chapter in Frank Lloyd Wright’s long life.

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Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com.

Next month’s reading selection is “Possession” by A. S. Byatt.


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