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The Womenby T Coraghessan Boyle
The muse is always the last to know. Yet, if she was aware of the artist's failings from the beginning, would that be enough to deter her? That is the question Boyle raises in his novel of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This fictionalized biography is both engaging and ironic. Wright, the media hungry publicity hound, is cast aside while the women take center stage.
A fictional account of the facts of Frank Lloyd Wright's life, The Women shines. Told mainly through the eyes of his three wives and one mistress, Wright becomes larger than life in his passion for his art, his lust for life, and his need for the women who surround him. Marked by amazing success and tragedy beyond bearing, Wright's story is fascinating, and even though you would rather not, you end up liking him. T. C. Boyle is an incomparable writer, and it is a true treat to read this remarkable novel. I loved it!
Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling novel of Frank Lloyd Wright, told from the point of view of the women in his life
Having brought to life eccentric cereal king John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle now turns his fictional sights on an even more colorful and outlandish character: Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle's account of Wright's life, 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. He never did what was expected and despite the overblown scandals surrounding his amours and very public divorces and the financial disarray that dogged him throughout his career, 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. In The Women, T.C. Boyle's protean voice captures these very different women and, in doing so, creates a masterful ode to the creative life in all its complexity and grandeur.
"The genius of Frank Lloyd Wright was both magnetic and cruel, as evidenced by the succession of failed marriages and hot-blooded affairs depicted in this biographic reimagining that drills into Wright mythology and the dark shadows of the American dream. The narrative moves backwards in time through the accounts of four women in Wright's life: Olgivanna, the steely, grounded dancer from Montenegro; Miriam, the drug-addled narcissist from the South; Kitty, the devoted first wife; and Mamah, the beloved and murdered soul mate and intellectual companion. But the novel's centerpiece is Taliesin, Wright's Oz-like Wisconsin home. The tragedies that befall Taliesin — fires, brutality — serve as proxy for Wright's inner turmoil; his deeper stirrings surface only occasionally from behind Boyle's oft-overbearing depiction of Wright's women. The most engaging person is Tadashi Sato, the Japanese-American apprentice and narrator who emerges via his frequent footnotes as a complex reflection of 'Wrieto-san' and, with his inability to remain objective and his evolving view of Wright and Wright's image, becomes the book's most dynamic character. It's a lush, dense and hyperliterate book — in other words, vintage Boyle." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Move over, Nora Roberts! With this potboiler about the love life of Frank Lloyd Wright, T.C. Boyle, one of America's most inventive writers, bursts feverishly into the realm of romance fiction. "The Women" is an altogether manic, occasionally baffling and yet strangely riveting novel. True readers of the genre, be warned: It's a romance only in spirit. Call it a thinking man's soap opera. As for the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) women, well. ... The fiery loves that populated the life of America's premier architect make excellent grist for an over-the-top melodrama. Wright's private life was shocking, lurid, the stuff of pulp fiction. For three decades and more, American tabloids thrived on appalling revelations about it. World readers gasped over the wicked details. He had always been a flirt and womanizer. His first wife, Kitty Tobin, by whom he fathered six children, was tolerant enough of his passing infidelities. But as his fame burgeoned, Wright became more flamboyant, increasingly reckless. He rode through town in his flashy convertible, openly canoodling with his neighbor's wife. She was the lovely, strong-willed Mamah Cheney, and, before long, she was front-page news. The scandal was so outrageous that the two lovers were forced to flee to Europe, leaving their spouses and families behind. On his return, a bit more than a year later, Wright began the construction of his empire's nerve center, Taliesin, and Mamah came to live with him there, in flagrante, to the distress of their neighbors. The affair came to a tragic end when Wright's manservant went on a rampage and murdered seven of Taliesin's inhabitants, bludgeoning them with an axe. Among the victims were Mamah and her two children. All this has been retold recently in Nancy Horan's popular novel "Loving Frank," but the account is only one of six parts in Boyle's salacious and exhaustive chronicle. The truth is that Wright went on to commit an abundance of peccadilloes. He took up with Maude Miriam Noel, a Memphis adventuress with a morphine habit, parading her about, to the horror of his ever-vigilant mother. Less than a year after he married Miriam, he began an affair with Olgivanna Milanoff, a former devotee of the eccentric and priapic Russian mystic Gurdjieff. When Wright brought Olgivanna to the highly disciplined — some would say tyrannical — Taliesin, faking her identity as a servant, his wife was already far away, bored with the country life. Nevertheless, Miriam mounted a very public and nasty long-distance campaign to smear her. But by then Olgivanna was pregnant with Wright's child. She eventually won out over Miriam and came to rule Taliesin every bit as despotically as her husband, earning the soubriquet "Dragon Lady." Boyle tells all this in garish detail, luxuriating in the considerable opportunity for heated sex and operatic gush such a chronicle of human foibles might offer. ("And he, fully aroused, his face gone rubicund and his ears glistening like Christmas ornaments in the quavering light, breathed his answer against the soft heat of her lips.") But as the novel unfolds, the quirky architecture of Boyle's book proves to be its undoing. Events proceed in reverse, so that a reader stumbles from last wife to first. Narrating the story is a fictional apprentice (Wright had many), a genial Japanese man named Tadashi Sato, whose introduction is palatable enough, but whose footnotes and asides become increasingly annoying and disruptive. Wright is Wrieto-San. And then there's a co-narrator named O'Flaherty-San. Why these buffers are necessary or why Boyle decided to employ them, we never know. What we do know is this: Every time the story begins to get some traction — just as we're pulled toward the next juicy morsel — we are reminded to look through a thoroughly trumped up lens. Eventually, Boyle's structure reveals itself as a steady, efficient machine against the natural drama. How can there be any tension when you know how a story will end? Where is the plot when you find yourself moving backward? As they parade by in their tidy Japanese boxes, Wright's women turn out to be strikingly similar: They are conniving harridans with big scores to settle. And though it's impossible not to read on (so striking and wild is the true story), Wright, too, becomes something of a mask: a cruel, self-absorbed, oversexed genius. Even his famous edifices never quite come alive. So much for the material. But, oh, the writing! It's the writing that pulls you through, and it's the writing that will reward you in the last scene of this altogether predictable and (sometimes deliciously) overwrought novel. Boyle is a marvel at descriptive prose. He has proved it again and again in a stream of books that includes "Drop City" and "World's End." Through the congeries that makes up this maddening maze of a novel, you find yourself turning the page and hitting on something like this: "Outside, beyond the gray frame of the window, the weather was dreary, funereal clouds strung from the rooftops like laundry hung out to dry, and so cold even the dirty gray ratlike pigeons were huddled against it, dark motionless lines of frozen feathers and arrested beaks blighting the eaves as far as she could see down both sides of the block." So you go on, from scene to scene, marveling at a turn of phrase or some well-articulated emotion. As with a fickle lover, it's the words that keep you there. Marie Arana, a former editor of The Washington Post Book World, is author of "American Chica" and "Cellophane." Her most recent novel is "Lima Nights." She can be reached at aranam(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Marie Arana, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Wright —and...his greatest creation, Taliesin — is the Rorschach test through which we come to understand each woman and what she sees in this troubled — and troubling — man." Angela O'Donnell, America Magazine
"All of Boyle's colorful skills are fully engaged..." Kirkus Reviews
"Boyle doesn't just fiddle around with familiar biographical material. He inhabits the space of Wright's life and times with particular boldness..." New York Times
Having brought to life eccentric cereal king John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, Boyle now turns his fictional sights on an even more colorful and outlandish character: Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Paris Wife was only the beginning of the story . . .
A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
Paula McLains New York Timesbestselling novel piqued readers interest about Ernest Hemingways romantic life. But Hadley was only one of four women married, in turn, to the legendary writer. Just as T.C. Boyles bestseller The Women completed the picture begun by Nancy Horans Loving Frank, Naomi Woods Mrs. Hemingway tells the story of how it was to love, and be loved by, the most famous and dashing writer of his generation. Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary: each Mrs. Hemingway thought their love would last forever; each one was wrong.
Told in four parts and based on real love letters and telegrams, Mrs. Hemingway reveals the explosive love triangles that wrecked each of Hemingway's marriages. Spanning 1920s bohemian Paris through 1960s Cold War America, populated with members of the fabled "Lost Generation," Mrs. Heminway is a riveting tale of passion, love, and heartbreak.
The Paris Wife was only the beginning of the story . . .
Paula McLains New York Timesbestselling novel piqued readers interest about Ernest Hemingways romantic life. But Hadley was only one of four women married, in turn, to the legendary writer. Just as T.C. Boyles bestseller The Women completed the picture begun by Nancy Horans Loving Frank, Naomi Woods Mrs. Hemingway tells the story of how it was to love, and be loved by, the most famous and dashing writer of his generation. As each wife struggles with his mistress for Ernests heart, and a place in his bed, each marriage slips from tenderness to treachery. Each Mrs. Hemingway thought it would last forever. Each one was wrong.
Told in four parts and populated with members of the fabled Lost Generation”—including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—Mrs. Hemingway interweaves the love letters, diaries, and telegrams of four very different women into one spellbinding tale.
About the Author
T. Coraghessan Boyle was born and raised in New York's Hudson Valley and now lives near Los Angeles. He is the author of several novels and short story collections. His 1987 novel, World's End, won the PEN/Faulkner Award.
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