2011 Books A-Z: Titles

M is for The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington

After kicking off the year with Loving Frank, love is still in the air in the reading room as I turn to Tim Farrington’s The Monk Downstairs. As a New York Times Notable Book for 2006, my hopes were a bit high for this book; unfortunately, there was some love lost after it.

Farrington’s story is the classic boy meets girl, with a twist. Let’s see if I can fill you all in on this variation. Boy is Michael Christopher, a monk of 20 years. Boy is disillusioned by his faith and leaves the monastic life.

Enter girl, Rebecca.

Girl is a single mother needing to rent out her mother-in-law apartment for extra income. Her ex is a pot-smoking, surfer boy who never grew up.

Boy rents apartment from girl.

They begin a sweet, but awkward friendship. Supporting characters come and go while boy and girl struggle with their respective relationships with God and one another.

Boy pulls away, girl pulls away.

Drama. Drama. Drama.

Crisis hits and boy has to step up so girl can step back and help her mother. And, at this point, you can probably guess what will happen.

At the end of this semi-chick-lit novel, I enjoyed some of the moments, but overall did not have any real connection or care for the characters. Even though Farrington delivered the happy ending, I closed the book dissatisfied.

Rating: 2 stars
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction

L is for Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

I have had this book for years. So many people wanted me to read Loving Frank┬áby Nancy Horan that I found myself with two copies, one I purchased and one that was given to me. But with oodles and oodles of books lying around, it was one of many I needed to get to. Flash forward and back up to this past November, and LOVING FRANK was selected by my Book Club for our January read. And then I did something crazy (big surprise). I bought a version for my Kindle and gave away my two copies. It was on a lark I did this, and only after having read through the first few chapters. I was instantly smitten with Horan’s wordly–no, that’s not a typo for worldly–ways and confident the recipients would love it as much as I was. Having finished it just in time for tomorrow’s discussion, and to be on track for this year’s project, all I can say is… I am loving Frank. The book, rather, not so much the man.

Let me also say that prior to cracking this book open, I knew very little about Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). Sure, in the peripheral pockets of knowledge I keep, I know he’s a major contributor to American architecture. He has two famous homes (probably more) Taliesen in Wisconsin and Taliesen West in Scottsdale (the latter I have actually visited). I also grew up in the southwest near a church inspired by his work full of clean lines, glass and nature. But his personal life, his drive and arrogance, his marriages and a rather scandalous affair in the early 1900s, I knew absolutely nothing about. My ignorance of FLW and his lover Mamah was absolute bliss when reading this captivating work of historical fiction.

In the early 1900s, Mamah (pron. May-muh) Borthwick Cheney was married and had just commissioned FLW to build a house in Oak Harbor. A masters-level educated woman who actively promoted women’s rights, Mamah was a leader and much ahead of her time. Her forward thinking ideas drew me to her and I liked her fire very much. Yet upon meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, her heart took over and the two of them found themselves quickly in a complicated, romantic entanglement; both FLW and Mamah were married to other people and both had children. They believed their shared love to be the truest relationship they had found and they would do anything to be together. Even if it meant Mamah leaving her very young children in the hands of her cuckolded husband and her sister to travel the world and follow Frank’s dreams. My love for Mamah was instantly lost; but I couldn’t stop reading. Horan’s blend of known facts and her own imagined dialogue between these two lovers was completely compelling.

There was a bit of detail overload at times on the architecture and landscape talk. But I had to know what would come of these two people and the families they left behind. I needed answers and outcomes, impacts and consequences. I could not understand a woman being able to abandon her children. As I turned the pages, I repeatedly wondered how could she do this (how any woman could ever do it)? Could she really be that selfish? Doesn’t she understand the gravity of her choices? How on earth would this turn out?

I won’t answer those questions for you; read it for yourself to find out.

Suffice it to say, if you know nothing or very little of the actual events, the story will take you in completely and when you least expect it, it will throw you. It will utterly throw you, jerking you up out of your comfortable reading posture forcing you to reread the pages you just read in utter disbelief. There are answers, there are outcomes–devastating ones, at that. And we are left with a fascinating account of what might have happened in the years that Frank and Mamah eschewed the world and everything in it for each other and, of course, Frank’s work.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction