Book Review: White Houses by Amy Bloom

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Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Whether or not you are a fan of American history, you will love this book. Author Amy Bloom must have done a lot of research to give us a book so entrenched in the Roosevelt clan.

Franklin Roosevelt signed The New Deal, which included Social Security and the Child Labor law, after only 100 days in office. He was the 32nd president of the United States and was in office when the U.S. was bombed at Pearl Harbor. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which over 70 years later is still being said. And it is still true.

Eleanor, on the other hand, was always considered quite an unpretty girl. She heard it said, and she knew it herself. She knew she had a flat face and buckteeth, but she was actually very intelligent and outgoing and made friends easily.

Friends (and fourth cousins) since childhood, Eleanor and Franklin married in 1905. Redefining the role of the first lady, Eleanor advocated for human and women’s rights, held press conferences and penned notes to her friends and colleagues.

Bloom makes it clear how FDR and Eleanor lived their lives. They loved and respected each other and had six children, one of whom died in infancy.

But the key figure in “White Houses” is Lorena Hickok, a journalist Eleanor first met in 1928.

Lorena was the most famous woman journalist of her day. When she met Eleanor, she was fascinated and she convinced The New York Times that Eleanor was worth her own reporter. She was assigned to the job and she and Eleanor fell in love. Eleanor called her “Hick” and they were obsessed with each other.  Eleanor said to Hick, “I kiss your picture every night before I go to bed.”

Hick had a ring that she gave to Eleanor and Eleanor wore it constantly. Hick never told her that it had been given to her by one of her former lovers.

There was the White House, and behind that, behind Eleanor’s bedroom, was a small white house. That was where Lorena lived, at least that’s what they pretended. Lorena left a couple of petticoats and some personal items there, in case someone wandered by. Actually, both of them spent most of their time in Eleanor’s bedroom.

Lorena came from a very abusive background, she had been abandoned, beaten, and she had been with a lot of women before Eleanor.

But their love for each other was pure and true. They often held hands as they walked in the garden. When they came together after a time apart they couldn’t wait to get back to Eleanor’s room and have their clothes off and their arms around each other.

Eleanor said, “Oh, Hick, I miss you so much. I wish we didn’t have to be apart.”

Hick said, “Eleanor, I’m kind of glad we are apart sometimes.  It makes it all the more sweeter when we are together again.”

They had an amazing 30-year relationship that is documented in more than 3,000 letters written by the two of them. They wrote sexy letters and gave each other pet names until Eleanor’s death on November 7, 1962. Her death left Lorena heartbroken. She chose not to go to the funeral but had a private service by herself, alone.

In this book, Amy Bloom brings a lesser known chapter of history alive.

 

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Jody Glasgow is a volunteer columnist for the Longmont Observer. She is married, has two sons, and has lived in Longmont since 2005. She loves to write and is in the writing group that meets at the Longmont Library and also a neighborhood writing group. She has a degree in Journalism from Foothills College in Los Altos, California.

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