120 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "She was Frank Lloyd Wright's love and all the world knew it."
Frank Lloyd Wright's turbulently scandalous love life is novelized with flamboyant style by T. C. Boyle in The Women: A Novel. As a literary device, Boyle invents a Japanese apprentice of Wright's, Sato Tadashi, who "slaved" at Taliesin in the 1930s. Tadashi acts as a host to guide readers into Wright's complicated, overlapping relations with three wives and a mistress...
Published on February 19, 2009 by K. M.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Must Like Harlequin Romances
More than 20 years ago, I read MANY MASKS, a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, who was then a critic with THE NEW YORKER. This biography was an excellent chronological presentation of Wright and his achievements. But it never quite brought Wright to life. In contrast, THE WOMEN, T.C. Boyle's examination of Wright, certainly captures this famous architect as...
Published on April 7, 2009 by Ethan Cooper
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120 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "She was Frank Lloyd Wright's love and all the world knew it.",
Frank Lloyd Wright's turbulently scandalous love life is novelized with flamboyant style by T. C. Boyle in The Women: A Novel. As a literary device, Boyle invents a Japanese apprentice of Wright's, Sato Tadashi, who "slaved" at Taliesin in the 1930s. Tadashi acts as a host to guide readers into Wright's complicated, overlapping relations with three wives and a mistress. Writing from Japan in 1979, Tadashi introduces and footnotes sections featuring Olgivanna Milanoff Wright, Miriam Noel Wright, and Mamah Borthwick Cheney with his own recollections about life with "Wrieto-San." He says he knows there will be complaints about the interpretations of people and events. And he isn't sure he really knew Wright: "Was he the wounded genius or the philanderer and sociopath who abused the trust of practically everyone he knew, especially the women, especially them?"
Boyle's Tadashi presents himself as a young, idealistic Wright acolyte who displays some of the Master's arrogance and style, but who, in his apprentice role, also feels the pain of the high-handedness with which Frank and Olgivanna run their household. The older Tadashi, looking back years after Wright's death, mixes admiration with knowing cynicism about the man.
The author also elects to tell his story in reverse. The scandals and humiliations of Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, open the novel. Wife number two, Miriam, controls the middle part of the book as she hurls invective and threats at Wright, fighting her own volatile, unstable character as well as Frank's preemptive self-indulgence and hardness. Mamah, the client's wife for whom Wright left first wife Katherine and built Taliesin, finishes the book, mainly because hers is the most cataclysmic, the most shattering, of THE WOMEN's stories.
Mamah, with whom Wright shared a life of ideas, suffered when the reality of Taliesin life intruded on her dream of how it could have been with Frank. Miriam, a noted sculptress, also discovered that the unchecked needs of Frank, the Great Architect, left her empty and overshadowed. Only Olgivanna, the young unshaped girl when she met Frank, apparently learned to fit into the crevices around Frank's imposing bulk and, after their early travails, fashioned herself a commanding pedestal. For Katherine, who, perhaps due to book length concerns, gets no section of her own despite nearly twenty years and six children with Frank, one passage in THE WOMEN speaks perhaps most eloquently, though prematurely, for her: "She heard him call after her, but she didn't turn. And when she got to the motorcar -- the chromatic advertisement of self and self-love, because that was the only kind of love Frank was capable of, and she knew that now, would always know it -- she kept going." Yes. But not until she had waited years to see if he would come back to her.
THE WOMEN is a vivid, avant-garde projection of what it might have been like during key episodes in the lives of these lovers of Frank Lloyd Wright, each of whom was, for a time, as paramount as any women could be to him. It is beautifully written (a thesaurus at hand would not be amiss), devoting considerable prose to descriptions of the surroundings, the weather, clothes, and other stage-setting details. Its memorable scenes succeed in limning believable, poignant, but not particularly sympathetic versions of these flawed people.
Katherine, Mamah, Miriam, Olgivanna, and Frank are each etched with Tadashi's sometimes catty bias on top of being hobbled by their historical selves, rendering them in a stark light. Certainly the book's horrific conclusion elicits shock and sorrow for the preyed upon and their kin. But even there, the direct victims seem to fade, and it is really egocentric Frank who's the focus as one of the novel's core women thinks on the last page, "The poor man....The poor, poor man."
One way to view THE WOMEN is as an exercise in portraying futility: the "great" Frank Lloyd Wright makes the same "mistakes" repeatedly, and the women who love him pay heavy prices. Perhaps without all the emotional roiling and spectacle, Wright could not have produced the impressive buildings he did. Whether the passionate unions he formed were worth -- especially for the women --the prize of his architecture is the question. Being Wright's love and having all the world know it -- despite efforts to keep a low profile -- rained down fire (literally) and tribulation until "everything shrieked and groaned."
To compare artistic visions of Wright's life, the recently published Loving Frank: A Novel, by Nancy Horan, delves into the Mamah era. Autobiographical memoirs from the years of the last Wright marriage include Reflections From the Shining Brow: My years with Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna Lazovich Wright, by Kamal Amin and Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius by Edgar Tafel. For an overview of Wright's "troubled life" and "his long career as a master builder" try Frank Lloyd Wright: A Life (Penguin Lives), by Ada Louise Huxtable. But first, dive into Boyle's ambitious THE WOMEN. 4.5 stars.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Must Like Harlequin Romances,
More than 20 years ago, I read MANY MASKS, a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, who was then a critic with THE NEW YORKER. This biography was an excellent chronological presentation of Wright and his achievements. But it never quite brought Wright to life. In contrast, THE WOMEN, T.C. Boyle's examination of Wright, certainly captures this famous architect as a character, who appears in this novel as charismatic, manipulative, narcissistic, scheming, and oddly susceptible to three strong but spiritual/romantic women, who shared what, in Wright's day, was a scandalous personal life. Once again, Boyle should get his due: He has persuasively brought a historical figure to life, just as he did with Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher, in THE INNER CIRCLE.
In this case, Boyle finds a unique approach to Wright. In particular, he examines Wright through prisms of female confrontation that existed in three stages of his life. In Boyle's order, these are the confrontations between Miriam, Wright's estranged second wife, and Olga, who would become his third, in the early 1930's; between Miriam and Wright's mother, housekeeper, and Catherine, Wright's first wife, in the 12 years starting roughly with the Great War; and between Catherine and Mamah Cheney, Wright's lover, in the era of Wright's prairie houses.
To tell of these confrontations between the women, Boyle adapts a Harlequin romance tone. Examples include:
Olga in Part I: "Was going off with Frank Wright any different from going off with Gurdjieff--to dance, to serve, to absorb the radiance with her mouth, her fingers, her heart and mind and spirit? Or, was it simply a father she was looking for, a father to replace the one she'd lost? No matter, because there was one surety in all of this, one thing she knew without stint: he was hers..."
Miriam in Part II: "She felt it, the knowledge run through her like a long shiver, but she was there at the open casement, not fifty feet from him, and without thinking, she just opened her arms to him. `Frank,' she crooned, drawing out the single syllable in the continental way--`Frahhnnk'--and she watched his face change. `Come here. Come to me.'"
Catherine in Part III: "She couldn't abide the moment, couldn't live through it and keep her sanity--because if it was true, and she was testing him, pressing him, forcing him out into the open--she'd kill herself. Shriek till the shingles fell off the house and run howling down the street to throw herself..."
From the author's point of view, this tone certainly makes sense. There are, after all, hundreds of books about Wright and centering his book on Wright's women gave Boyle an unusual approach to this subject. Even so, this melodramatic style makes this novel a consistently irritating read, a miasma of run-on thoughts and overwrought emotion. Of course, it's a matter of taste. But the writing made me yearn for the terse and understated Hemingway.
Boyle clearly knows what he's doing. In Part II, he refers directly to WUTHERING HEIGHTS and in Part III he makes a sly reference to cheap novels. At these moments, he seems to be winking to his reader, conveying that his is a deliberate style choice and the approach that best captures the minds of Wright's crazed women. But if he's going to "wink" about the style to his readers, why not have a few moments of parody or caricature? As is, the gifted Boyle has written a historical novel that is a tribute to melodrama.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Female Characters,
"The Women" is less about Frank Lloyd Wright and his work and his life than it is about the three very different women with whom he spent his life after he left his first wife and the mother of his first six children.
Each of them is, in their own way, an exotic of sorts - from the intelligent, liberated Mahma Cheney, to the morphine addicted, sexually charged Miriam Noel (a Sothern Belle) to the mystic-influenced, Montenegrian immigrant, Olgivanna. Each of their lives and their relationship with FLW is brought to life with Professor Boyle's customary cadence and rhythm. The best section (and most difficult to read for those who know the history)is the last one concerning Mahma. Boyle, I think does a very fine job of portraying why she was the true love of FLW's life. As in "Riven Rock", Professor Boyle does a fine job of explaining the trials of being an intelligent, self-directed woman in early 20th Century America - mostly through the recollections of Mahma.
The relationships of the various "Women" to each other other are also nicely handled. You get the sense that FLW - intentionally or not - was a trapeze artist as flew from one Women to the next - from Kitty to Mahma, from the tragic Mahma to Miriam competing with Mahma's memory and from Miriam to Olgivanna.
I would also recommend paying attention to some of the more minor female characters and their relationship with Wright and the "Women" as they also add to the picture - his mother, his various housekeepers (particularly Mrs. Breen) and cooks. It is clear that no matter how much of a mess he made of things in his relationships, FLW could not be without a female companion - some of it was sexual but a lot of it was not.
Some professional reviewers found the framing and the structure of the novel a distraction. I, however, enjoyed it. I found the use of the fictional Japanese apprentice as the narrator (as translated by his Irish American grandson-in-law) very interesting and added to the richness of the work. The occasional debates between the narrator and his grandson-in-law over language or intent are interesting. Wright was extremely well-regarded in Japan but, as Tadashi , the narrator imparts, his often strange personal behavior (and his weird propensity to let history repeat itself) was inexplicable to the Japanese (among others).
If I have one criticism of the work, it is the attention that is lavished on the unstable Miriam - morphine addicts aren't that interesting after a certain point. I would have liked to know more about Kitty and her relationship with FLW over the years after their estrangement and eventual divorce.
All in all, a terrific book from a writer with expressive language and a great sense of pace.
4.5 stars out of 5.
Thomas J. Rice
67 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Taker,
T.C. Boyle's novel about the wives and mistresses of Frank Lloyd Wright titled, The Women, leaves readers with one clear impression: Mr. Wright got what he wanted. Boyle writes the novel from the later to the earlier periods of Wright's life. He begins with the wife who survived Wright, Olgivanna. He goes on to Miriam, whose drug addiction and narcissism gave Wright heaps of trouble. Mamah is next, Wright's soulmate, who is murdered at Taliesin. Then there is Kitty, Wright's devoted first wife and the mother of his children. Boyle uses as the narrator a student and apprentice at Taliesin, and it is that place that becomes the central core of the novel. As with other Boyle novels, his insights into characters is strong, the use of language precise and finely written (although I only learned two or three new words from this offering,) and the setting described with a precision and clarity that places come alive. The fact that Boyle lives in a house in California that Wright designed gave him an extra level of involvement that helped him explore the personality of this larger-than-life character who packed a lot of complicated living into his twentieth century life.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing portrait of iconic figure,
I'm not a Frank Lloyd Wright aficionado, but since I live in the Midwest, I was interested in reading this after it received a starred review in PW. I've also never read a T.C. Boyle book, but I really like how he created the "characters." He really develops a vivid portrait of each person's positives and negatives. I think it's clever to arrange the book in a reverse timeframe, so you develop your own idea of who Wright's earlier wives/mistresses were, then the author delivers a whole part devoted to her. Before reading, I also had the impression that Wright was a very" successful" man, but Boyle does a great job illustrating that Wright was gifted, but struggled with finances and egotism. I took this book with me everywhere - even in hardcover - so I could steal a few minutes reading before meetings and appointments.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank's women problems....,
Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius who changed the way we think of architecture--and execute it. But his free spirit that allowed him to break the rules, also caused him to flaunt other traditions and to clash time and again with the mores of his time.
Narrated through the Japanese apprentice, Boyle can also step back and give the reader detailed expositions that would have been otherwise clumsy when telling the stories of each of Frank's women. With a strong prose and sure-pen, Boyle does a marvelous job of staying inside each of these women's head as he takes the reader on the journey of each relationship.
Contributing to the success of this novel, no doubt, is Wright's own choice of women: On one end there is Mamah, the intellectual, an early feminist with sensitivities that had taken another half-a-century to become more widely understood, and a few more decades before entering the public mainstream. Then there is Miriam, a charming, drug-addicted woman with a heady combination of sexuality and eccentrics, the lust for whom Wright paid heavily years later.
I found most interesting Boyle's structuring of the novel as he narrates it backward, starting with Wright's last marriage and going back in time, while almost each woman encroaches on the life of the one preceding her.
Nancy Horan, in "Loving Frank" did a fabulous job of detailing the romantic and dramatic relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In T. C. Boyle's novel, the reader gets to place that one story in perspective of the architect's long life.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Over-wrought and over-written,
Any woman who wrote ridiculous lines such as:
"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."
would be laughed out of writing. But because it's written by a man, this over-blown, over-written novel gets five stars from most reviewers. Sorry, guys. Not from me.
The narrator, Tadashi Sato, was a totally inexplicable choice who severely detracted from the story. Whatsit-san this and Whatsit-san that. Oh, please. There were several times I felt like throwing the novel in the fireplace. And it was a narrator who gave, as far as I was concerned, little insight into FLW and no insight into what the heck it was all these women saw in him. He was a genius... That doesn't make someone attractive to women necessarily. By the end of the novel, I personally found his his narcissistic destructiveness a lot less than charming. I mean virtually the second Borthwick Cheney was slaughtered he was in bed with another woman. Charming. But if we had been inside FLW instead of at a distance, maybe I would have seen some grief or something other than total selfishness.
Now you can't blame Boyle for FLW's selfishness, but I think you can blame him for not getting deeper into the man's character. Surely there was SOMETHING else there. Or he could have pretended since this was, after all, a novel.
Ok, now let's get to Boyle's much vaunted prose. I will be blunt. I simply don't like it. I find it purple and over-wrought. Lines like: "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." make me wonder if the man ever met an adjective he didn't like. Arrested beaks blighting the eaves? Come on. That doesn't even MEAN anything. Rather than artistic, it strikes me as just plain purple.
Now, I'm sure I'll be flamed by all of the Boyle fans out there. There are worse novels that have been written by far. FLW's life was interesting, no doubt. But if you want a novel about FLW, I have to suggest Loving Frank as a better choice.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a disappointment,
This review is from: The Women: A Novel (Paperback)
I had previously read, "Loving Frank" which gave a wonderful portrayal of Frank Lloyd Wright. "Loving Frank" was interesting and well written and very readable. Frank Lloyd Wright was an amazingly gifted man professionally, a prolific lover of women, and not a man I would have wanted to had in my life. When I read "The "Women", I had the same disdain for the man, but I found the novel to be very disjointed to read. My prime objection to the writing of this novel was the footnotes. It seemed as if every other page had lengthy footnotes, and I began to yell at the author that if that many footnotes were important, he should include the information in the story. The Footnotes became a huge distraction to me.
I would not recommend this book.
The Women: A Novel
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Bulls-Eye from TC Boyle,
This review is from: The Women: A Novel (Paperback)
Much has been said - good & bad - about Boyle's choice to formulate this story from the most recent to the long-ago beginning. I admit to being a bit confused at first, but as I caught the fictional Japanese apprentice, Tadashi's, narrative rhythm and became more familiar with the characters, I felt the backwards chronology was without a doubt the best means of portraying Frank Lloyd Wright and his Women.
When we initially meet FLW, he is a far from sympathetic subject...embittered, defiant, barely hanging on financially. His come-on to the lovely young Montenegrin dancer, Olgivanna (his final wife), seems the quintessential lecherous old man. However, as we progress through the pages (and I for one turned those pages faster and faster as the story took hold of my imagination) it becomes evident that this is a pattern of life for FLW, and the women he chooses all share certain traits...most obviously an obsession with the man himself.
I enjoyed the narration of Tadashi, his personal asides and personal tragedies actually served to illustrate his attraction to the philosophy of Wright and Taliesin, further explaining why countless young, talented professionals chose to willingly enslave themselves to a congenial tyrant, enduring the shunning of local townspeople and the constant tumult, scandals and tragedies which rocked Taliesin.
I wasn't particularly interested in Wright's life when I picked this book up, I was reading it mainly because it was Boyle. But as with any great writer, Boyle forces you to care about the characters he creates...or in Wright's and the Women's case, those he brings back to roaring life. I highly recommend getting lost in the back roads and hills of Spring Green and re-discovering Taliesin and its inhabitants for yourself!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Women by T C Boyle,
This is a most interesting novel with a lot of historical data included about the life and profession of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is, however, never dry or boring. The imagery is crisp and the story makes one want to go explore these homes and settings. It is in many ways a tragedy, but when is true genius not? The characters are finely drawn and full of life with all the fury and joy of passion as well as pathos that often threads through lives fully lived.
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The Women: A Novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle (Paperback - December 29, 2009)