Nancy Corbett


The Women

by T.C.Boyle

T.C. Boyle's The Women and Kingsolver's The Lacuna are the cream this year so far. If I had to pick one of the two, I'd say that The Women is the most inspiring. While reading it, I watched documentaries about Frank Lloyd Wright, surfed for news clippings and pictures of his buildings. I even watched All About Eve, which stars Wright's granddaughter. Boyle brings Wright's expansive personality to life and presents the story in a format that draws a detailed sketch of the man's psyche through his relationships with his four wives.

The story opens upon Wright's meeting his fourth and last wife. Olgivanna was referred to by Wright's apprentices as a Queen Bee, someone who controlled not only the household but the personal lives of everyone living in Wright's extended household. The narrator and owner of the frame story is a Chinese apprentice who lived at Taliesin during this period. His narration of his own story touches on Olgivanna's propensity for control, while the greater story focuses more on Olgivanna's transition into the household and the humiliation she suffered at the hands of Wright's third wife, Miriam.

This way, Boyle draws the reader in. While residing with Olgivanna, he drops notes of the drama and turmoil to come in the next section, which takes us one step back to the time with morphine-addicted, solipsistic, flamboyant Miriam. The section on Miriam, while highly entertaining, cross-stitches us back to Mamah, who we learn was brutally murdered.

Boyle doesn't step back from Miriam to Mamah, though. From Miriam, he goes back to Wright's first marriage with Kitty and his early career. We meet a young man with a growing family and feverish ambition. After fathering six children, Wright develops a relationship with Mamah and leaves Kitty to be with her. The book ends with Mamah, who probably represents the most meaningful relationship of Wright's life. Documentaries speculate on how Wright's life would have unfolded if Mamah had lived. But she didn't. She was locked in Taliesin with her two children by a household servant. The servant then set the house on fire and butchered Mamah and her children with an axe when they attempted to escape. In this way, Boyle brings us to a conclusion at the center of Wright's life. The effect is dazzling and perplexing, and utterly brilliant. The horror of Mamah's death inspires us to forgive Wright for any transgressions and brings into focus the strength that supported his genius.

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams..." Arthur O'Shaughnessy


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