“White Houses” by Amy Bloom.
At the beginning of summer I received an email with a group of book titles. They were all stories of famous historical figures, but their stories were told from the point of view of the luminaries’ mistresses. This gave me pause and I had to think about it. In general mistresses aren’t heroes but villains. They are viewed as home wreckers and disruptors or could be evidence of a moral character flaw in an individual. All of this had to be put aside or reconciled in order to give credence to the narrator. Once this was sorted out and given that mistresses are present throughout history, we without judgement suspend disbelief, take their witness as fact and move on to the story in the book.
The book by Amy Bloom did not take me by surprise. I had read “Eleanor Roosevelt”, by Blanche Wiesen Cook, and “No Ordinary Time”, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’d also read “Eleanor and Hick”, by Susan Quinn, so I felt I already knew a part of the whole. Would this experience fill in some of the spaces in my mind? What might it have been like and looked like from this imaginative and unusual point of view? Did I believe the mistress would tell me more of the truth?
Now to the Author’s talent. I enjoyed her style and prose. I found her writing witty and profound. There are many passages I found inspiring in “White Houses”. The one I’d like to share, was very close to the end when Lorena Hick was reminiscing on Eleanor’s funeral, on the past, and her relationship with her. She was aware that with ER, it would be a full life for her, she was in love with her, but with a partial commitment. At moments Lorena compares the experience to living “amputated”, and replies “I got by.”, and, “..often broke, occasionally bitter, but not disabled.” (pg 168).
On page 209, Lorena concludes the passage by affirming, “I don’t know that she would feel this way, if she were the last of us.” after describing a close and meaningful moment in their relationship. What struck me most was the simplicity of it all. Lorena remembers and she is happy. She wonders if she is the only one that feels about it like she does, and she is gratified by those memories and doubts, with the doubts never diminishing the joy of the memory. “It’s been seventeen years and I can still smell her own sent, salt and cucumber.” (pg. 209)
I can see how at the sunset of our lives it will all be about memories. I can see it. I believe it, but do I understand it? We all have our own version of events and ideas of what matters. How does it happen? How do these experiences become meaningful memories?
We give them their meaning. We keep them in mind. We honor them and we call them significant for the rest of our lives. We call them rites of passage. It is a choice. We give them meaning because we want to and because we need to. They will be the soul’s nourishment when we grow old, frail and unable. It seems joy is the consequence of a life filled with genuine and meaningful memories and the experiences it took to make them.
I was surprised by the concept, and I enjoyed the author. I’d love to participate and collaborate in the production of similar novels. The research and “play of imagination” required must be fascinating. I am thinking of reading another tome of the series. There is one written from the point of view of Lucy Mercer, FDR’s mistress, but how about Edgar Allan Poe’s mistress?
Produced by: Eugenio Zorrilla.