Published by Random House
Publication date: February 13th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Lenora Hickok was a formidable woman for her time. In fact, she’d probably still be considered a formidable woman. From a childhood of deprivation and abuse she went on to become a renowned reporter, which in the 1930s, was a huge achievement in and of itself. In 1928 she interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt for Life magazine, went on to cover Eleanor’s part in her husband’s 1932 campaign for president, and even lived in the White House for a time during his presidency. Her life alone would make for fascinating fiction, but in White Houses author Amy Bloom looks at her through the lens of her longtime affair with Eleanor, another strong, fascinating woman.
The beginning of White Houses is a recap of Hickok’s early life, before her success as a journalist. From there the novel jumps to the weekend of FDR’s funeral in 1945. Once the public ceremonies are completed Eleanor retreats to an apartment in NYC with Hickok and in the span of three days Bloom recounts their years together with piecemeal bits from the present leading to deeper memories of the past.
Written from Hickok’s perspective, Bloom does a wonderful job in capturing the voice of a woman who had little interest in anything feminine, but was a journalist through and through. The tone of White Houses borders on brusque, as Hickok relays the various historical moments she was not only privy to, but experienced through Eleanor. She is reporting events as she saw them without sugarcoating. She softens only in reminisces of their times together. I appreciated Bloom’s ability to bring to light what lived in the shadows, even if it is a fictional accounting.
For some, particularly those who will be offended by the thought of Eleanor Roosevelt in love with a woman, White Houses will not be a novel of interest. Historians are divided on just how far the relationship between the two went—dear friends or something more? For me, I sincerely hope that, beyond the artistic license Bloom takes with private conversations, Eleanor was deeply loved by Hickok. She deserved it. Her husband was unwilling to stick to his marriage vows and showed little interest in anyone’s feelings beyond his own, meaning his mistresses were installed at the White House and paraded in front of Eleanor. There is no historical doubt about Eleanor as a woman of principle, who fought for the vulnerable of this country, so if she found some small measure of happiness I’m pleased. And grateful to Bloom for her tender portrayal of the two.
I never stopped envisioning every piece of that life to come; the two cottages, our dogs; the way, over time, the kids would come to see how happy I made their mother and what good care I took of her. We would keep the best of our friends. Our love would create its own world and alter the real one, just a little.