T.C. Boyle Critic's Choice Free Recommended

When: Mon., Feb. 16, 7 p.m. 2009

T.C. Boyle draws upon the subject of his latest novel for its epigraph: "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility; I chose arrogance," quoth Frank Lloyd Wright. That self-serving tidbit sets the tone for The Women (Viking), Boyle's fact-based account of the architect's roughshod ride through the lives of the women who loved him. With masterful ease, the author tells the story backward, beginning with Wright's courtship of his third wife, Olgivanna Milanoff Hinzenberg, while still married to number two, Miriam Noel, a 40-ish southern belle whose artistic pretensions and morphine addiction make hers the most heartbreaking portrait in the book. Narrating the proceedings from offstage is Tadashi Sato, an invented member of Wright's cadre of unpaid apprentice draftsmen who also performed much of the laborious upkeep of Taliesin, the house Wright built for his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Cheney and six others, of course, were murdered by a servant there in 1914, and the house was badly damaged by a fire the killer set; Wright spent the rest of his years rebuilding and adding on to the Wisconsin estate that in the end was probably the deepest love of his life. Boyle has delved into the lives of self-centered visionaries before with The Inner Circle (Alfred Kinsey) and The Road to Wellville (John Harvey Kellogg), and his keenly drawn Wright, an impecunious grandee, dreaming and scheming through a tempest of lawsuits and scandals, shows that great lives aren't always built on solid ground. --Patrick Daily

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