Bloom’s lyrical novel, laced with her characteristic wit and wisdom, celebrates love in its fiery and also embered phases ... White Houses is scattered with colorful period references — to, say, the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping (covered for The A.P. by Hick) and Wallis Simpson ('famous for kissing up, and kicking down') — but Bloom employs her research with a light touch. Her narrative is suffused with a vivid sense of the personalities of both Roosevelts, their charms and their arrogance, the loyalty they commanded ... Bloom draws an emotionally convincing picture of this complex domestic tangle.
If you like to make a meal out of ungarnished facts, stick to the history books. But White Houses serves up a plate piled with delectable trimmings ... Rather than channel Eleanor’s well-known voice, Bloom makes the fortuitous decision to have Lorena Hickok tell her story. She’s a terrific narrator, brash, funny and opinionated as all get-out ... White Houses occasionally slides off-piste, with overly long digressions about a traveling freak show and a desperate face-saving scheme by a gay Roosevelt cousin. Although she’s a generally reliable narrator, Hick’s report of her last conversation with FDR doesn’t ring true. Yet her overall assessment certainly reverberates ... with its adoring portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, White Houses reminds us what true greatness looks like. It also demonstrates that the god of love has yet again found a welcoming hangout in Bloom’s bighearted fiction.
...[an] irresistibly audacious re-creation ... Bloom convincingly weaves tender romance with hard-boiled reality, although there is an occasional misstep. Granted, FDR had his own well-known dalliances, but his metrosexual tête-à-tête with Hick is a stretch. At its heart, however, White Houses feels true. In an afterword, Bloom notes that the White House staff routinely cropped Hickok out of photos. In White Houses, she’s in the center of the frame, and nobody who reads this sad, funny, frisky novel is going to forget her.
White Houses examines the way that a public life can intrude upon and damage a private life. It addresses the unreliable nature of memory: 'We think we’ll remember it all and we remember hardly anything.' It acknowledges the sobering gaps that can arise between expectations and reality: 'It is not true that if you can imagine it, you can have it.' Bloom’s fresh, feisty portrait of FDR is another big attraction of the book ... White Houses, by seeing the Roosevelt era through the most unlikely of outsiders-turned-insider, brings a hidden chapter of East Wing history to life.
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 ... 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.
Readers drawn to the novel hoping to learn something fresh about the New Deal power couple — or how the 'closet' has often been a tricky notion in LGBT history — may leave unsurprised. What is unassailably deft is the way Bloom’s [Lorena] Hickok moves between her pre-Eleanor [Roosevelt] past and their post-affair present with mournful appreciation of and practical wisdom about the arc of love ... This may be Bloom’s finest act of restoration: giving Hickok — and us — a version of her authentically wrought voice. In this ongoing era of psychosexual speculation about powerful couples and their liaisons, it is this voice, with its observations about class, power, country, that feels most revelatory, most tantalizing.
White Houses is an unconventional love story. It lacks a happily-ever-after–Bloom does not allow her Hickok and Eleanor to have the public partnership that history denied them–and it centers on a romance between not only two women, but middle-aged ones who are 'not conventional beauties,' as Hickok puts it. Yet they feel beautiful when they are together. This makes it all the more painful when the relationship goes on hiatus late in FDR’s presidency. 'All fires go out,' Hickok says, explaining her lingering feelings to Franklin. 'It doesn’t mean that we don’t still want to sit by the fireplace, I guess.' In White Houses, Bloom has built up exactly the sort of blaze that will draw readers to linger.
Bloom chronicles this complex affair, and in Hick, who narrates the book, she creates an engaging, poignant, self-aware character who’s a delight to spend time with ... Bloom paints their happy times warmly, but she is just as deft at showing us Hick growing older, feeling her losses but still as self-sufficient as those carnival freaks: 'I have been lonely in my life but never when drinking strong coffee, wearing my fleecy slippers, and standing in my own kitchen.'
...a book about the love, friendship and intimacy between two middle-aged women that’s both ordinary and extraordinary. The author doesn’t shy away from subtle love scenes featuring the first lady ... The book attempts to depict a more intimate side of Ms. Roosevelt.
...an achingly beautiful love story ... Bloom brings incredible dimension to her historical figures, especially the wise and savvy Hick ... White Houses is so gorgeously written that some passages need to be read more than once, or perhaps aloud, to fully appreciate their craftsmanship. A Roosevelt cousin describes Hick as erudite. To call this novel the same would be an understatement.
Amy Bloom always captures love on the page honestly and lushly ... Bloom also registers love’s pinch and inconvenience; its incongruities; how love pulls people into unlikely — even perilous — couplings ... Her novel is a towering love story of two remarkable women.
Bloom isn't trying to shock readers by dredging up this love affair from a bygone century — instead, she's aiming to bring the forgotten life of a remarkable woman back into the light ... In a few stark, startling scenes, Bloom illustrates the brutality and loneliness of Hick's childhood. What's most striking about White Houses, however, is its depiction of a fervent, forbidden love that blossoms between two intelligent women who are not young and beautiful ... Bloom has always worked best up close, near her characters' heads and hearts and sheets, and White Houses brings the reader inside a love affair for the ages.
Via Hick’s crisp delivery and fluency in telling detail, Bloom uncloaks the insidious treacheries girls and women face, poor and privileged alike ... novel of extraordinary magnetism and insight; this keen celebration of love, loyalty, and sacrifice.
“It is these letters, along with Hick’s journalism and other historical documents that American novelist Amy Bloom draws on to paint an imagined portrait of the relationship between the two women, a short novel both breathtakingly intimate and with the grandest of historical sweeps … The letters, and the conversations between the two women, allow Bloom to range back and forth in time, drawing a vivid and vividly satisfying picture of life at the White House … Hick’s wry, perceptive narratorial voice is conjured brilliantly; she is both hard-bitten hack and hopeless romantic. Bloom has a keen ear for dialogue … If White Houses isn’t an example of the great American novel then frankly, I don’t know what is.”
Bloom beautifully captures the affection the women felt for each other by revealing hushed schemes and stolen moments of passion against the backdrop of world-changing events that end up driving Eleanor and Hick apart. Cleverly structured through reminiscences that slowly build in intimacy, Bloom’s passionate novel beautifully renders the hidden love of one of America’s most guarded first ladies.