Clois­tered love in the cor­ri­dors of power

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - ARTS - Vivien Hor­ler AMY BLOOM Granta

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 (the­


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