T. C. Boyle’s account of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, as told through the experiences of the four women who loved him, blazes with his trademark wit and invention. Wright’s life was one long, howling struggle against the bonds of convention, whether aesthetic, social, moral, or romantic. Despite the overblown scandals surrounding his amours and the financial disarray that dogged him, he never let anything get in the way of his larger-than-life appetites and visions. Wright’s triumphs and defeats were always tied to the women he loved: the Montenegrin beauty Olgivanna Milanoff; the passionate Southern belle Maud Miriam Noel; the spirited Mamah Cheney, tragically killed; and his young first wife, Kitty Tobin. Through the voices of these very different women, T.C. Boyle creates a masterful ode to the creative life in all its complexity and grandeur.
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A ruminative, unsettling look at the many faces of Frank Lloyd Wright
Architect, philanderer, maniac, tyrant: the many faces of Frank Lloyd Wright provide an intriguing foundation for TC Boyle’s twelfth novel. The Women explores the many sides of the Prairie School doyen as seen through the lens of his entanglements with four women — Kitty, Miriam, Olgivanna and Mamah — and their generally torrid fallout.
Never mind the title, Wright is the main attraction: arrogant, suave, devoted to the inscrutable logic of intimacy on the one hand and a singular work ethic on the other. The novel’s geographic scope is impressive, steadily dilating as admirers and underlings enter his life.
Boyle’s long, syncopated sentences are loaded with proper nouns, his mercilessly precise scenes the product of a fussy structural agenda. Framing schemes abound throughout the novel, as does a commitment to historical detail. Fittingly, Boyle’s prose has a spatial, structural, almost architectural< sensibility. The story’s pacing is at times puzzlingly slow, but what it sacrifices in economy it makes up for in descriptive heft. Grover Gardner’s appealing narration deftly interprets the novel’s chameleonic protagonist.
The Women remains, in many ways, an unsettling story, a knot of impacted emotions and their untoward eruption. The women themselves mostly suffer, and Wright looms large as can be — a puppeteer whose instrumentalist views on life and love rumble beneath his every move.
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This is a superb rendering of the true life and times of Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright stage managed his buildings, his surroundings and his personal life. He was a complete cad and his karma certainly punished him in spades for his disloyalties to those who loved him. Beautifully written and well worth the read. The only negative is the reverse chronology the author uses in describing Wright's successive spouses.