On his worst day, T.C. Boyle writes better than just about everybody else, his prose gliding across the page in effortless fashion. Even so, working through The Women: A Novel of Frank Lloyd Wright was a challenge. You have to work up a running start to finish the next chapter, and that's not what a book is meant to be. You should want to complete a page in anticipation of the next and devour chapters by the dozens.
Here, the novelist details the life of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright as seen through the eyes of The Women: A Novel of Frank Lloyd Wright in his life. Yes, Wright was considered by many as the finest architect who ever lived, and his extraordinary buildings stand to this day as a testament to his genius. But do you really care about The Women: A Novel of Frank Lloyd Wright he was married to or the not-so-domestic life in which he engaged?
Boyle has a particular interest in FLW - he lives in one of his houses. But 99.9 percent of everyone reading the book does not. In a fact sheet that accompanied the book, the author was asked, "In the course of your research, what was the msot revealing thing you discovered about Wright?"
"The thing that most interested about FLLW was how different his method of creation was from my own. I need peace, serenity, beauty, a good dog and a good night's sleep in order to create. FLLW needed scandal, lawsuits, animus, tumult, mayhem and catastrophe just to feel alive and engaged."
The point here is that the author doesn't respond by saying, "Well, the most interesting thing I learned about FLLW was that he liked blondes over brunettes." Or, "He liked working in stone more than wood." Boyle answers the question as a factor of his own involvement - he compares the architect's style of creation with his own. And that brings us back to our original point that
he probably wrote the book because he wanted a reason to explore the history of the very house he lived in.
The tale drags on and on until, in the final chapter, Frank's beloved Taliesin estate is burned to the ground (along with most of his family and workforce) with an unhappy staff member. That is a riveting chapter, but only takes up a few pages.
Boyle is at his best when he's working strictly from the imagination, creating communes in Alaska, greasy and angry characters, and strange explorers. The other books he's written that deal specifically with real people (The Inner Circle, for example, a novel about sex therapist Dr. Kinsey) fall far short of his strictly whimsical creations.
He needs to get back to his roots. Beautiful prose wasted on a lackluster story is like painting a rock - it's pretty but it's still just a chuck of dirt.