Book Review: Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert
Author: Susan Wittig Albert
First line: Hick didn't go to the funeral.
Review: For good and for bad, I do most of my learning through historical fiction. This historical novel about Eleanor Roosevelt and the reporter who was, for a time, her lover, was a delicious, delightful read that gave me many oh-no-way! moments and lots of trips to Wiki to research more.
Albert wrote the fabulous A Wilder Rose, about Rose Wilder and her famous mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was so curious to see how she would handle Eleanor Roosevelt and her romantic relationship with AP reporter Lorena Hickok.
Lorena Hickok, a journalist, met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1928, when she was assigned to cover the elections that year. She and Eleanor had an instant rapport, and Hick (as she was called) was nursing a broken heart. She didn't think something would flare up between her and this soon-to-be very public figure -- but something did, and it had wide-ranging impact on the both of them, both emotionally, personally, and professionally.
The novel reads in a kind of journalistic manner, very matter-of-fact at times, which is both maddening and seems appropriate for Hick. She reflects on her relationship with "Madam", her nickname for Eleanor, and through her, Albert provides a wealth of fabulous detail about the era, the politics of the time, and illuminates a woman who is both very public and very private. (For those with anxieties about gay sex, it is merely alluded to, and very lightly, so please don't let that be a reason to skip this intriguing read!)
And while the book's hook is that romance, in many ways, this is a biographical novel about Hick, too -- a woman I've never heard of but am now fascinated by. When it seems her romance with Eleanor becomes too public, Hick is shunted off to work as an investigator for the newly formed FERA -- Federal Emergency Relief Administration -- a job she accepts reluctantly. But it transforms her into an advocate for those without a voice, and allows her to shed light on the real hardships Americans faced in the 1930s.
In the worn-out coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky, the human pain was inescapable. It lay like an open wound across the landscape. (p189)
Albert includes an 11-page Biographical Afterward, that details some of the whitewashing of Eleanor Roosevelt's romantic past (a read as fascinating as this novel!). There's also a four-page Who's Who and two pages of bibliography.
A wonderful read from an author who consistently impresses me with her great choice in heroines, detailed research, and warmly rendered stories.
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Biographical / 1930s / Eleanor Roosevelt / Journalism / LGBTQ / Romantic Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Persevero Press (2/1/2016)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction