A tireless champion of the poor and powerless and disenfranchised, Eleanor Roosevelt was endlessly documented for her lifelong commitment to progressive causes. Still, there was one passion the press never spoke of: her alleged decades-long romance with journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok. Amy Bloom’s radiant new novel is rooted in extensive research and actual events, but her goal is less to relitigate history than to portray the blandly sexless figurehead of First Lady as something the job rarely allows those women to be — a loving, breathing human being.
And she does it brilliantly, though the book’s true center is actually the wonderfully vivid Hick, a stoutly unglamorous self-described rube who bootstrapped her way from squalid Wisconsin poverty to the back corridors of the West Wing through intellect, charm, and sheer audacity. In Bloom’s frank rendering, Lorena lands somewhere between Fran Lebowitz and Oscar Wilde, a spiky wit and bon vivant with a tender, bruisable heart. She’s also a crackling storyteller, and Houses often serves as a fascinating incidental portrait of the last American century. But more than anything it’s an indelible love story, one propelled not by unlined youth and beauty but by the kind of soul-mate connection even distance, age, and impossible circumstances couldn’t dim. A