The Women by T.C. Boyle

the women

I enjoyed Nancy Horan’s historical fiction, Loving Frank, so much that when I saw the latest book by acclaimed author T.C. Boyle, which is also a Frank Lloyd Wright-centric work of historical fiction, I hungrily grabbed it up.  But whereas Loving Frank is the story of only one of the women in Wright’s life, The Women encompasses a much larger period of time and tells not only the story of the architect’s mistress but also of each of his three wives.

A larger-than-life character, Frank Lloyd Wright struggled against social, moral and aesthetic conventions for nearly his entire life.  Plagued by scandal and financial troubles, he refused to deny himself any desire, whether material or feminine in nature.  Ironically, the women in his life brought him both comfort and happiness but were also often at the root of his woes.

An eccentric himself, Wright found himself drawn to other colorful characters.  The Women tells the story of his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Tobin, with whom he had six children and whom adamantly refused to give him a divorce despite his blatant unfaithfulness; his mistress Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney a spirited feminist who was tragically murdered at his Wisconsin estate, Taliesin; his second wife, Maude Miriam Noel, a melodramatic southern belle, a morphine addict (and at least as portrayed by Boyle, someone who, in my opinion, should have been certified insane and institutionalized); and his third wife Olgivanna Milanoff, “the Dragon Lady” who was a student of the Russian mystic Gurdjieff and who gave Wright another child later in his life.

A remarkable characteristic of the novel is that each of the four women is presented as both a heroine and a villainess, depending on whose portion of the story is being told.  The book is divided into three parts (poor Kitty’s story is rather brief and mingled with Mamah’s and as a result she appears to be Frank’s most pitiable victim).  As each woman’s story is told, she is presented as the sympathetic character and all others are antagonists.  This gives the narrative a complete and somewhat unbiased personality.   

Boyle is a fantastic writer.  The novel is witty, funny, poignant and imaginative.  He uses another character to help tie the narrative together:  Tadashi Sato is a fictional apprentice of Wright who lived and worked at Taliesan from 1932 until the start of World War II.  His introductions and footnotes pepper the novel with additional insights into the genius of America’s most famed architect as well as giving firm dates for certain events and supplying additional historical facts that are interesting, but not necessarily vital to the story.

T.C. Boyle has written eleven novels including The Road to Wellville and The Inner Circle.  He has also published eight collections of short stories.

The Women is available at noteBooks in hardcover for $27.95.

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Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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