Sunday, August 09, 2009

Book 86: The Women

The Women by T.C. Boyle

I was rather disappointed with this novel. T.C. Boyle has already once ficitionalized a famous person's life in The Inner Circle, and in The Women, he focuses on Frank Lloyd Wright and three of the women he was involved with. The narrator is one of his apprentices, an architect from Japan, and tells in the story of Olgivanna Milanoff, Maude Miriam Noel and Mamah Borthwick, his last two wives and his infamous mistress in reverse chronological order.

The biggest issue with the novel is that Boyle doesn't portray any of the characters that sympathetically, with the exception of Kitty Tobin, Wright's first wife who has only a minor role. Miriam, who is present in the majority of the novel, is an obnoxious drama queen with no redeeming qualities and at no point did I come close to understanding her relationship with Wright or why they would even be attracted to each other. Wright also does not come off as an appealing character, and while he certainly had his flaws, surely, Boyle must have been able to find some positives about the man if he was willing to devote an entire novel to him.

It was hard for me to get through due to the treatment of Miriam who played such a major role without being appealing in the least. Even Olgivanna wasn't that interesting to me. The novel was strongest during the passages from the fictional narrator with which each part started before going into Wright's history with the perspective woman from that section of the novel. He was much more interesting and life-like than any of the women Boyle portrays. The last hundred pages focusing on Wright and Mamah Borthwick also weren't too bad but even here he portrays her as a bit of a self-righteous idiot who gives away her books and feels she giving people a blessing in the process. While I am not arguing that Borthwick was not influenced by the Swedish author Ellen Keyes, Boyle portrayed that very negatively and made Borthwick look like a fawning teenager/ someone who was just trying to justify her actions.

I feel like Loving Frank gave a much more balanced portrayal of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick - it showed their flaws without making them entirely unsympathetic, and made it understandable that these two people would have fallen for each other. It's smaller in scope and doesn't discuss the other two women that The Women focuses on, but it's definitely a better novel than this one.

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