Georgina Glover, manager of Harry Hartog Macquarie, reviews Amy Bloom's stunning new novel, "White Houses."
"White Houses" starts in 1945 and looks back on the love affair that took place between Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lorena ‘Hick’ Hickok, a celebrated reporter from South Dakota. Told from the perspective of Hick, we learn how she met and fell in love with Eleanor and how it ended. She also tells us about her dirt-poor childhood and how she escaped that South Dakota dirt to not only make her own living but become a renowned journalist to boot.
"White Houses" is a fascinating read. The Roosevelt administration from 1933-1945 was a pivotal time in not only American, but also world, history. Roosevelt helped America emerge from the effects of the Great Depression with vast and profound social and economic reforms, and he took America into and through WW2. "White Houses" is strong on historical detail and provides insight into Franklin Roosevelt and his administration as well as Eleanor’s humanitarian work after he died. It also provokes a sympathetic response to a young Lorena Hickok, forced to leave home in 1907 at the age of 14 to fend for herself in a series of home-help positions, and even a circus.
But it’s the foregrounding of the relationship between Eleanor and Hick that warrants attention. For so long it wasn’t acknowledged, neither by the press of the time nor by contemporary historians and documentarians. Franklin Roosevelt’s affairs were a well-known secret so the reasons for the deliberate ignorance of Eleanor’s affair is likely complicated by facts of gender and views about Eleanor Roosevelt herself. In an interview, author Amy Bloom has noted that after reading Eleanor’s and Hick’s letters in the FDR library, she wondered what it would be like to be Hick, to have the main relationship of your life erased. From this occurrence, Bloom decided to tell Hick’s and Eleanor’s story. The relationship that Bloom portrays is warm, tender and passionate and a touching tribute to both women. It’s also an important development in telling more little-known stories about women. At an impressive 211 pages, "White Houses" is a feat of compression with nothing left out and much to remember.