T.C. Boyle is at his finest when he's writing about a difficult man. He's spun literary gold from the personal lives of corn flake kingpin John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville; Alfred Kinsey, famous sex researcher, in The Inner Circle; and a crazy rich guy with some super-duper psychosexual problems in Riven Rock. Delving into his most interesting morass of a man yet with The Women, Boyle embraces the enigma of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Self-actuated scandal followed Wright throughout most of his long and illustrious career as an architect. After 20 years of marriage to his wife Kitty, he left her for her best friend, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Hounded by the press and shunned by high society, they fled to rural Wisconsin where Wright built the idyllic Taliesin, a farm and estate of great beauty—and sadness. It was there that Mamah, her two children, and four of Wright's colleagues were brutally murdered by his servant, and the place was burned to the ground. Two incarnations of Taliesin and two wives later, Wright was still in a constant state of tabloid crisis. For all of his points of intrinsic interest, though, The Women isn't Wright's story—it's more a study of the sterner feminine stuff it takes to love and live with an egomaniacal, hypocritical, emotive perfectionist who is also unabashedly an arrogant genius.
Narratively, Boyle jumps through time as Wright meets his third and last wife, Olgivanna, then back to his second wife, the infuriating Southern belle Miriam, who's cloying and addled by a morphine addiction, all the way back to the devastating loss of his mistress Mamah. Wright was not one for tepid wallflowers, and the women in his life were grand, complicated beings, even downright paradoxes of virtue and moral fallibility, willing to fly a little too close to the sun to warm themselves by Wright's presence. Nothing is ever pat in Boyle's fictional biographies, nor in his amazing lexicon, and the depth of emotion and true character of Wright, Miriam, and the others' interior lives makes for far more entertaining reading than the muckrakers of the day could have dreamed possible. The Women's eloquent portraits are wrapped in the strong, clean lines of Wright's signature style and also in the viscerally charged "tick and crepitus" of Boyle's.