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.
Susie | Novel Visits says
If I remember correctly, the movie Hyde Park on the Hudson hinted at this relationship while focused on an FDR affair. I’ve read Amy Bloom before, but it has been a long time. I’m not sure why this one hasn’t appealed much to me, but it hasn’t. Your review has me more interested, but without a rave, I just don’t think I’ll be picking this one up.
I don’t know about Hyde Park- is it a book? I might be interested in reading it to learn more about Eleanor but I have no interest in anything about another cheating, selfish, powerful man. Not even in my fiction these days!
Susie | Novel Visits says
It was a movie, but more focused on him. It was several years ago, but I think it was okay.
Ann Marie says
Fabulous review, Catherine. This one looked very interesting to me but I’m even more interested after reading your review!
Thanks! I heard there were people who felt it ‘smeared’ Eleanor for being a lesbian, but I don’t see that as taking away from her legacy. In fact, I think it’s a narrow-minded POV. I found them both to be fascinating women trying to having a bit of happiness in very difficult circumstances.
I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this one, Catherine; I have been very interested to hear from another reader that I trust, because I am very intrigued by this story and I have enjoyed some of Bloom’s previous work. This sounds like a worthy read.
I feel as if it got to the complexities of such a relationship and shed light on the Roosevelt marriage.
I guess now with the 2 recent novels out about their relationship — this is the first time I’m hearing about Hickok & Roosevelt. I didn’t know about their relations before. I better brush up on my history. Interesting perspective. Nicely done review.
What are the other two? Did you read them? I’d be curious to learn more.
I think the one I saw lately about their relationship was by Kelly O’Connor McNees called Undiscovered Country. Have you seen that one?
No. I’ll check it out.