Our Book of the Month for August is White Houses by Amy Bloom about the love affair between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and news reporter Lorena Hickok.
White Houses – The Blurb
“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.“
White Houses – Our Review
This review is written with the expectation you have read White Houses. If that’s not you yet, bookmark the page and come back.
The book immediately reminded me of a recent Book of the Month After The Party. Both slim things, set around the 1940s, about women, highlighting a topic I was unaware of. The topic this time was the Depression. Yes I had obviously heard of it, yet I didn’t know the extent, the suffering or President Hoover’s response. Bloom brilliantly portrayed all of this in a few pages. As did Connolly with the exile to the Isle of Man in After The Party.
Described as a fictional account of a (supposed) real affair, the book was peppered with numerous historical references. The Lindbergh Kidnapping was mentioned, as was Wallis Simpson and even the Kellogg sanitarium. The book therefore had a strong sense of time and setting.
What’s in a man?
It certainly made me curious about Roosevelt the man – Bloom wrote of a legend who inspired devotion. “He was her whole world for her and she was a delightful little village for him“. I also now want to know more about Eleanor. Was she as well loved as Bloom indicated? Did she really have a say in Article 24? I love books that can be used as a platform for learning about something new. White Houses is just that.
The writing in White Houses just shone from the page. This was a book about love in all its exquisite, beautiful, tortuous forms. Time and time again Bloom would demonstrate this: “those people get small candles steadily lighting the way home until death they do part, and only the young are stupid enough to think that those two people, him gimping, her squinting, are not in love”
The descriptions were gorgeous and that last paragraph! If someone ever wrote that for me I would feel like I had succeeded in life. Yet sometimes the meaning was slightly beyond me and I had to pay close attention to work out what was going on. This wasn’t helped by the timeline which flit about leaving me unclear about what was happening when in terms of Hick and Eleanor’s relationship. Not seeing things from Eleanor’s point of view meant that she was somewhat of an enigma to the reader. We were often left guessing about her true feelings and motivations. It felt like your understanding of her always remained just out of grasp. Like she was to Hick!
The star of the show
Roosevelt may have been the boss but Hick was the star of the show. I loved reading about her childhood and could have read a whole book about it. Lets not forget this is based on real life people! Bloom nailed the agonies of unrequited love, or star-crossed love if you will. I felt Hick’s heartache, I felt her despair and agonised over her non happily ever after ending.
Book of the Month
It’s a beautiful book and well worth a read. As a bonus, its slightness makes it a perfect summer read if your still looking for something to stuff into a suitcase.
If you would like to get involved with our book of the month try answering our book club questions published every month. We will also be reviewing a new book in September so keep an eye out for the Lowdown on it soon.