Ruby Ramblings


The Women of Frank Lloyd Wright
April 6, 2009, 9:42 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , , ,

The Women The Women by T.C. Boyle

In The Women, T.C. Boyle once again takes on a key figure of American culture, and paints a picture of their life from the point of view of the people around that person. Frank Lloyd Wright proved to be an amazingly innovative architect, although it seems often his structures defied structure in their leaky forms.  He was also something of a playboy. He had four wives (well, three and one murdered mistress), and in Boyle’s book, he outlines them in reverse order starting with Olgivanna, a woman from Montenegro he seduces at one of his many parties with intellectuals and world travellers.

His life with Olgivanna is almost destroyed by the wife he was still married to when their romance evolved. Miriam was a hot-headed, opium addicted, glamour queen who even after years never forgave Wright for his infidelity.

Olgivanna 1926
Miriam Noel Wright

The story moves on to Mamah, the lover killed at the Taliesin estate, where all of his wives toiled over growing food for the masses that stayed with them. There was little money to go around, as at the time Lloyd’s career was growing was during the depression. Of course he didn’t see it coming, and had nothing left after divorcing Miriam when the crash came.

Mamah's death report

Taliesin Taliesin – the house on the hill in Wisconsin.

His first wife Kitty, he married when she was barely out of high school. They had six kids together, of which he is said to have showed little interest. Even after Wright was involved with Mamah, Kitty refused to grant him a divorce. In turn, Miriam refuses to grant him a divorce after he impregnates Olgivanna. What amazes me is how fiercely these women held on to him. Huge personalities in their own right, it shows how charismatic and fascinating Wright must have been. And how ridiculous people are in relationships.

This is where the book falls flat. There is very little about Kitty, although I think that is a choice made by the fact that Lloyd’s life really steamed up as he got older. But the final chapters leading up to Mamah’s murder are quite tedious. After devouring the first 3/4ths of the book, I actually skipped several pages and started again when the new help was hired at Taliesin.

The most interesting part of this book, and probably the most unconventional, is the way Tadashi Sato, Lloyd’s Japanese apprentice, is used to narrate the book. The story opens with Tadashi arriving at Taliesin, meeting Lloyd for the first time, and then the chapters take on the tone of a research or journalistic narrative. Tadashi continues to be a presence by adding historical information, and wry humor, using footnotes.

It is interesting to note that T.C. Boyle lives in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in California.


T.C. Boyle Reads from The Women

Some buildings Wright is famous for:
Falling Water