White Houses by Amy Bloom is the story of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt. Lorena met Eleanor in 1932 when she traveled with ER and FDR reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Lorena was not instantly captivated by Eleanor because she found her idealistic. In the company of the next president and future first lady she developed close friendships, especially with Eleanor. Hick’s (as she was known) feelings for the next first lady deepen into intimacy and love. After the election Hickok moved into the White House and reported from there, from the room next to the First Lady’s.
Along with many of you, I have read biographies about Eleanor Roosevelt that give light to her reporter-lover Lorena Hickok. Bloom takes a different approach telling the story from Lorena’s point of view. Thus we have the background of Lorena from childhood. She is raped by her father and then sold to farming neighbors for her work, from which he takes her wages. As a teen, Hickok strikes out on her own, she works in a circus, which may sound cliché, but the things she describes are fresh and thought provoking.
When Hick leaves that job, she gains some education and gets a job as a Journalist working her way up the newspaper ladder. She makes a place for herself in a predominantly male career. When she’s sent to cover FDR’s campaign, she’s become one of the best reporters for the project.
The Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt assignment came at a good time for Lorena. At first Hick didn’t like ER’s idealism, but after a short time, they found much to agree on. Eleanor installed Hick in the White House the room next to her own. The Roosevelts’ have an unusual marriage. After Eleanor has spent several years having children, as First Lady she travels and reports to her husband about the way the country is getting along during the Depression of the 1930’s. Lorena went with her. This unusual marriage is described by Bloom: as FDR had a harem of women that came and went from the White House as each competed for his attention; Eleanor had Hick.
White Houses is a romance against the backdrop of some of the most trying times in history. It makes for a great read.
It’s well written. I was taken by the frame: beginning in Lorena’s horrible childhood, and the ending takes us to a poignant cemetery scene. I just picked up the book to pull out a quote from the cemetery as an example, and it got me all over again.
It’s powerful, not sappy. Bloom’s writing is compelling. In fact, when I finished the book, I decided to put it on the shelf next to the books I will read again.
Excerpt from White Houses by Amy Bloom
FRIDAY AFTERNOON, APRIL 27, 1945
29 Washington Square West
New York, New York
No love like old love.
I’ve done the flowers as best I could. I got stock and snapdragons, pink roses and daffodils, from the Italian florist and I’ve put a vaseful in every room. I’ve straightened up the four rooms, which were already neat. The radio still works. The record player works too, and someone has brought in albums of Cole Porter and Gershwin and there is one scratchy record of La Bohème with Lisa Perli from when I was a more regular visitor. I’ve gone to the corner grocery twice (eggs, milk, bread, horseradish cheese, sardines, and I went back again because there was no can opener) and up the street one more time, for booze. I hope that at five o’clock, we’ll be drinking sidecars. I bought lemons. I want to have everything we need close by. I am hoping we don’t see so much as the lobby all weekend.
I change my clothes in the living room. I don’t think I should be in the bedroom, at all, unless I get invited. I anticipate sleeping on the couch. I’ve brought my navy-blue Sulka pajamas, for old times’ sake.
On the radio, the newsman raises his voice like a coach on the field, and says that the eighteen major cities of Germany are ablaze. He says, the Potsdam Division of the German army is systematically murdering the Americans wounded on the battlefield. He says, with a lilt, that two thousand American planes are attacking rail positions near Berlin and other communications centers in southern Germany. He says, Good night, ladies and gentlemen, victory is in sight. I hope so. I’m glad and I’m tired. I’ll celebrate the war’s end out on Long Island, with a couple of other old broads and our dogs, and we will all toast Franklin Roosevelt, who didn’t live to see it. My neighbor Gloria and I will sing “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Every single one of us will cry.
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Bits and Bobs
Publisher: Random House
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This was a guest review by author Martha Miller.
You can find Martha online at her website.
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