Thursday, May 26, 2011

Famous Men and Their Women

By one of those odd coincidences that occur in my reading life, I just finished two books that were oddly parallel: Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, the story of Mameh Cheney, the woman for whom Frank Lloyd Wright left his wife and six (count'em six) children. I'll confess that by chance, I had an abridged audio (which I consider something of an abomination), and I could often tell where the cuts were made. For a lot of reasons, I can't (or won't) reveal much of the plot, and I'll even encourage you NOT to read anything about the relationship if you plan to read the book.

I've always been interested in Wright, particularly since one of the homes he designed is located in my hometown, Florence, Alabama, built for the Rosenbaum family. In my absolute favorite high school class, Humanities, we had an architecture unit and were able to tour the home. Over the last several years, I've also read Blue Bailett's YA novel The Wright Three before visiting and touring Chicago, and I made the trip out to Oak Park for the F. L. Wright tour, as well as to the Robie House near the University of Chicago.

I couldn't help, though, as I read the book, sympathizing with the spouses and families abandoned.

Then I read Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, a novel based on Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife. The writing was particularly good, I thought, and the author used historical and biographical research as well as Hemingway's fiction to weave her tale. Perhaps the most memorable turn of events occurs when Hadley manages to lose Hemingway's only drafts of writing, a detail I must research.

The story was such a name-dropper, bringing in all the expatriates--Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, and Gertrude Stein, credited with dubbing the crew the "Lost Generation." While much of the story is set in Paris, it begins back in the states and travels throughout Europe,--Lausanne and, of course, Pamplona.

In both books, I marveled at how these not-yet-discovered geniuses managed to travel and live either on credit, hope, or the generosity of wealthier friends. Both stories were heartbreaking, and although neither purported to be anything more than a novel, the bones of the stories, grounded in truth, were both compelling.

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