Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert - #review

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the wife of the 1932 Democratic presidential candidate, the two women become deeply, intimately involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship that ends only with both women’s deaths in the 1960s—all of it documented by 3300 letters exchanged over thirty years.

Now, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert recreates the fascinating story of Hick and Eleanor, set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War. Loving Eleanor is Hick’s personal story, revealing Eleanor as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation’s First Lady, as well as by a compelling need to care and be cared for. For her part, Hick is revealed as an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life.

Drawing on extensive research in the letters that were sealed for a decade following Hick’s death, Albert creates a compelling narrative: a dramatic love story, vividly portraying two strikingly unconventional women, neither of whom is satisfied to live according to the script society has written for her. Loving Eleanor is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see and celebrates the depth and durability of women’s love.



My first thought when I read the synopsis for Loving Eleanor was..."3300 letters?  I won't write that many in my lifetime, let alone to one person over a span of 30 years!"  And they were all kept (preserved).  Part of that has to do with the writers thereof, and part because Eleanor was not your average housewife of the time.  She was the First Lady of the United States, the wife on the only man elected to serve four terms as President.

Historical fiction is one of my two favorite genres,.  Stories that take a set of historical fact and 'flesh them out' for readers is definitely my favorite kind of historical fiction.  In Loving Eleanor, Ms. Albert has one of the best examples I've come across of just that type of history lesson.  I learned things about Eleanor Roosevelt that I had never learned in years of school and college.  And I've maintained that this kind of historical fiction makes history come alive, so that it is not just facts and figures to be taken in by rote and forgotten the moment after the final exam.

At this point, I guess I should say that some readers may not care for the fact that this book describes a close, intimate relationship between two women.  If they allow that to stop them, they will be missing out on a wonderfully crafted, and amazingly thoroughly researched history lesson, gifted to us by a talented author.  And while I consider myself 'well educated', I must confess, this is one thing about Eleanor of which I had not heard before.  And let's face it, FDR was not 'keeping only unto her', spreading his affections in numerous directions over long periods of time.  It is said that Eleanor and Franklin may not have remained married, except for the fact that it would blow his political career.

It is easy to love a person.  It is not so easy to love an institution.  And Eleanor was both.  (She was called 'Eleanor Everywhere' and 'First Lady of the World'.)  And Lorena Hickok was an AP reporter.  That in itself was unusual for the time.  News reporting was 'a man's job', and women most often reported on tea parties and social gatherings.  But Hick (as she was nicknamed) had a professional relationship with Eleanor from FDR's pre-governor days, so she was assigned to the First Lady, and became part of the entourage that accompanies an important person.

Eleanor the woman was very isolated.  She was painfully aware of what it meant to be alone in a room full of people.  And political wives were supposed to be...dare I say, 'set dressing' back in the day.  Would she have become 'Eleanor the institution' if she had stayed the quiet, retired type?  Probably not.  Would she have put out those first steps into having her own projects (on a national or international stage), if Hick had not been there to encourage her?  Maybe, maybe not.

The facts are, Hick did meet Eleanor, they did have a relationship and Hick did encourage Eleanor to spread her wings.  And ultimately, it was this spreading of the wings that drew Eleanor and Hick apart.  Writing historical fiction that is based in historical facts is not an easy choice for an author.  Susan Wittig Albert does a masterful job with Loving Eleanor - a must-read for history buffs and fans of stories about women.



Susan Wittig Albert is the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of the forthcoming historical novel Loving Eleanor (2016), about the intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok; and A Wilder Rose(2014), about Rose Wilder Lane and the writing of the Little House books.

Her award-winning fiction also includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.

Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); Writing from Life: Telling the Soul’s Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman’s Guide to Success Off the Career Track.

She is founder and current president (2015-2017) of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

For more information please visit www.susanalbert.com and www.LovingEleanor.com, or read her blog. You can also find Susan on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Goodreads, and Pinterest. Like the Loving Eleanor page on Facebook.


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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers in exchange for my honest review.  This post contains affiliate links.)

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how comfortable I will feel about the relationship as a whole, but it wouldn't stop me from reading the book nonetheless. The cover to this one was beautiful and caught my eye in your Stacking the Shelves post so I really wanted to come back and check out your review for this one as well.