White Houses by Amy Bloom
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2018
“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.”
A beautiful, unexpected, and forbidden affair unfolds against a turning point in American history in this moving and romantic novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Away, Lucky Us, and Where the God of Love Hangs Out.
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 connections with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a life and a lasting love 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.
What I thought
White Houses is a book that has been extremely difficult for me to rate. At times, I loved reading this story, but at others, I struggled with it.
As a historical fiction fan, I loved reading Amy Bloom’s take on the relationship between Eleanor and Lorena. I love the feeling when the wheels start turning, and I can’t help but wonder how much truth is behind the fiction. Their love story, at least as it’s told here, is the definition of bittersweet. Amy Bloom truly brings to life how beautiful and tragic their relationship is. There were a number of times when I just wanted to cry and cry for them, especially at the end.
On another historical note, as someone who has always deeply admired Eleanor Roosevelt, I was impressed with how Bloom portrayed her. Her character and her voice felt true to life, which is not always easy to do with historical figures.
I think where I struggled with this one was not Lorena herself (I just loved her), but her voice. Her narration can be jarring at times, which made it difficult to sink into. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t say this as a knock against Bloom’s writing. Her writing is impeccable–I have written down quote after quote of lines and passages I adored. Rather, it’s just that Lorena’s story seems to jump around a bit, and there’s almost an assumption that the reader knows all of the minor historical figures. Again, I did really enjoy Lorena as a character and Bloom’s writing. It was just difficult for me to really sink into this story, if that makes sense.
If you enjoy historical fiction, or if you are in the mood for an ultimately tragic love story, I definitely recommend White Houses. Although not always an easy read, in more ways than one, it nonetheless provides a fascinating take on Eleanor and Lorena’s relationship, as well as an intriguing look into those times.