This debut novel explores the little-known romance between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the wife of one of his early clients, the pre-suffrage feminist Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Although in 1909 both are married with young children, they fall in love and eventually run away to Europe, destroying their respective families and scandalizing Chicago in the process. Although the couple eventually returns to the architect’s Wisconsin homeland to begin work on one of his most revered treasures, much is lost in the process, and a heavy price remains to be paid.
Although the story is told well and apparently accurately from the viewpoint of Mamah, the novel is strangely lacking in feeling. Just why the affair occurs, and what keep it going, remains difficult to understand. The motivations of both parties in devastating their own families seem inadequately explored, leaving one the impression that an overwhelming sexual attraction is the major, and perhaps only, cause. The author does seek to make a tortured link to the main character’s incipient feminism, which as an explanation for her behavior seems tenuous and incredibly self-serving at best. As for Frank, it suffices that great men, or more likely great egos, are not subject to ordinary constraints.
The book stands as an interesting exploration into the private life of a great artist, but ultimately fails in providing insight into a complex and disturbing human relationship.