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White Houses Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of White Houses by Amy Bloom.
White Houses (2017), Amy Bloom’s LGBT historical novel, is a fictional account of Eleanor Roosevelt and her most treasured companion, Lorena Hickok. The book is very popular with readers and critics alike who praise it for its exploration of female passions and witty sense of humor. An acclaimed novelist and short-story writer, Bloom has contributed to many publications, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times magazine. She taught creative writing at Yale University once won the National Magazine Award.
The book begins just after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death. Grieving, First Lady Eleanor needs the comfort of friends and family. The protagonist, Lorena Hickok, or “Hick,” is a strong woman who knows how to look after herself. She met Eleanor years ago, and she considers herself one of Eleanor’s firmest friends. White Houses looks at how their friendship blossoms.
Hick describes her upbringing and how she ended up in the White House. She grew up in South Dakota, and her father sexually abused her. At thirteen, she fled and joined the circus. Eventually, she found an aunt in Chicago and finished school there. She learned journalism, working her way up the ranks until the paper assigned her a White House scoop.
Hick thinks back to Eleanor and the person she used to be. Like her, Eleanor was comfortable in the male-dominated world of politics and scandal. Although they have different personalities, they found common ground discussing politics and what they would do differently, if they had a voice. Eleanor had many opinions, and she loved expressing herself. On the other hand, Eleanor hated public displays of affection, often appearing cold, but Hick knew how warm and loving she could be behind closed doors.
When Hick arrives at the White House, everything is in chaos. Eleanor won’t speak to anyone because her daughter, Anna, invited Roosevelt’s former lovers to his deathbed. She can’t believe Anna would betray her like this, especially since one of his lovers almost set fire to the White House one evening when Roosevelt refused to sleep with her. Although he is dead, Hick has no sympathy for the late president.
Eleanor finally agrees to see Hick. They recall their past, sharing happy memories. Eleanor talks about her cousin, Parker Fiske, who lived his life as a closeted gay man. This makes the pair remember their own romantic relationship, which no one ever suspected other than Roosevelt himself. Hick had talked about how she lost her job as a journalist and Eleanor had offered her a room at the White House. One thing led to another and before long, Hick fell in love.
Hick didn’t know if Eleanor returned her feelings. She knew that Eleanor couldn’t leave her husband, and they couldn’t sustain an affair forever. Hick broke it off with Eleanor, but she regrets the time they have spent apart. Although she has had many lovers, Hick doesn’t ever forget Eleanor.
Eleanor points out the significance of a sapphire ring. Hick’s former lover had given her a large sapphire ring, which she then gave to Eleanor. Eleanor wore this ring for years and it became a symbol of the secret passion between them. Even Roosevelt understood the ring’s significance, and on his deathbed, he wished them happiness together.
Hick chastises Eleanor for not doing everything she could to save Parker Fiske. Parker worked for the government, but when rumors circulated that he was gay, the department threatened to fire him. Eleanor didn’t speak up for him or defend him the way she should have. Before they can fight it out about Parker, he shows up at Eleanor’s door.
Parker is covered in blood and bruises. His boyfriend, Thurmon Jones, helps him through the door. Police confiscated their passports at a gay nightclub the night before, and when they demanded their passports back, the police beat them. Hick feels terrible but she wonders if this is Eleanor’s shot at redemption. Surely there must be something she can do for them.
Despite Parker’s pleas for help, Eleanor says there is nothing she can do. She tells them the best idea is to leave for California where it would be easier for them to rebuild their lives. Hick is disappointed and, before she goes, she tells Eleanor that it is never too late to fight for what she believes in.
At the end, the narrative jumps forward a few years. Eleanor recently died from anemia; Hick missed the funeral. She knew she would break down and everyone would question why she was so upset. It seemed safer to stay away. When the funeral is over and everyone has gone home, Hick visits Eleanor’s graveside to pays her private respects.