Cloistered love in the corridors of power
lands a job with the administration. She observes the Roosevelt marriage, essentially a working partnership as the president, despite his polio and his wheelchair, has other loves.
The two women are from vastly different backgrounds – Hick from a poor abusive family in South Dakota, Eleanor from American nobility. Yet theirs is a true and loving relationship, despite their respective circumstances.
In the book, the relationship with Eleanor lasts years. Neither of them, notes Hick, are “conventional beauties”, but Hick is angered by magazine pictures of the ageing Eleanor.
“Dearest,” says Eleanor, “When one has buck teeth and a weak chin, one can hardly blame the photographer.”
The Roosevelts’ hearts were in the right place – there are occasional warming references to the politics of the time and their responses.
Immersed in the difficulties of emerging from the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal, Eleanor says: “The function of democratic living is not to lower standards but to raise those that have been too low.”
I had only the barest grasp of the Roosevelt years, and found myself doing a lot of googling. For instance, I had no idea that Roosevelt was the first US president to serve more than two terms, winning four presidential elections, the last shortly before his death in April 1945.
Before Roosevelt, there was no law that limited a president to two terms; after his death the US constitution was amended.
This is a tale of some politics as well as dogged devotion. Bloom writes beautifully. Hick says of Eleanor: “You are not just my port in the storm, which is what middle-aged women are supposed to be looking for. You are the dark and sparkling sea, and the salt, drying tight on my skin, under a bright, bleaching sun…”
So were they lovers? Who knows – but Bloom’s creation of this relationship makes for a convincing case and a great read.
Read this and other reviews by Vivien Horler on her website The Books Page (thebookspage.co.za).