Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: White Houses by Amy Bloom

Title: White Houes
Author: Amy Bloom
Published: February 2018, Random House
Format: ARC Paperback, 240 pages
Source: Publisher

The unexpected and forbidden affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok unfolds in a triumph of historical fiction from the New York Times bestselling author of Away and Lucky Us.
"I never envied a wife or a husband, until I met Eleanor. Then, I would have traded everything I ever had, every limo ride, every skinny dip, every byline and carefree stroll, for what Franklin had, polio and all."

Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt's first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, "Hick," as she's known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor. But then, as her connection with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a lasting love, and a life that Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as "first friend" is an open secret, as are FDR's own lovers. After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death. Through it all, even as Hick's bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.

From Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan's Washington Square, Amy Bloom's new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity.

"Amy Bloom knows the urgency of love," wrote The Washington Post about Bloom's acclaimed bestseller Away. The same could be said of White Houses, an unforgettable novel about the power of passion and the endurance of love.

My thoughts: Ever since visiting Hyde Park and Val-Kill a while back, I've become slightly obsessed with all things Eleanor Roosevelt and have slowly started collecting books about anything related to her. Of course, when I saw that Amy Bloom - an author I am ashamed to admit I have yet to read - had written a book about Eleanor's secret affair with Lorena Hickok, I just knew I had to read it!

I remember when I was taking the tour of Val-Kill, the tour guide made one statement that stuck with me and as I was reading this book, that statement kept coming back to me. The statement went something like this, "The grandkids of Eleanor and Franklin were not bothered by their many dalliances of either sexes...they loved them for who they were." So, they were aware that both had many affairs, some of opposite sexes, and some of the same sexes, but it didn't seem to bother them. I wonder if it's everyone else that seems bothered by it.

This is a fictional account of the love affair that happened between Lorena "Hicks" Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt. It's told from Hicks' point of view and while centered around the few days right after FDR's death, it does move back and forth in time as Hicks reminisces about not only her childhood but about the early days of her affair with Eleanor. It truly is a remarkable character study of all involved.

It's hard to imagine that this secret (or maybe not so secret after all) affair started when Hicks was still a journalist and came to the White House to interview First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The two hit it off and so their friendship was started. It just so happened that at this time, there was no longer any spark between FDR and Eleanor, so I guess you can say timing is everything. But, here's where things get interesting. Eleanor moves Hicks into the White House and is able to keep her "relationship" with Hicks quiet, yet FDR was not as secretive with his affairs. It definitely wasn't the case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander. 

This was a beautifully written, tragic love story. And it's one of the stories that makes you want to read more about the topic because while this is a fictionalized account, it is based in reality. Apparently there were an enormous troupe of letters written between these two women that have provided fodder for numerous books to be written on this relationship - and I have to admit I am slightly curious to see just how each other has put their own spin on it. So dear readers, don't be alarmed if you see other reviews of books about this same topic. My curiosity is piqued and I am ready to devour these books! Have you read a book about this relationship? Please share! 


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