The Women by T. C. Boyle
Release date/ Length: 2009 / 451 pages
Synopsis (from the front cover): Wright’s life was one long, howling struggle against the bonds of convention, whether aesthetic, social, moral or romantic. He never did what was expected, and despite the overblown scandals surrounding his amours and very public divorces and the financial disarray that dogged him throught his career, he never let anything get in the way of his larger-than-life appetites and visions. Wright’s triumphs and defeats were always tied to the women he loved…
First line: I didn’t know much about automobiles at the time — still don’t, for that matter — but it was an automobile that took me to Taliesin in the fall of 1932, through a country alternately fortified with trees and rolled out like a carpet to the back wall of its barns, hayricks and farmhouses, through towns with names like Black Earth, Mazomanie and Coon Rock, where no one in living memory had evern seen a Japanese face.
Review: I have been on the library’s waiting list for months for Boyle’s latest and was not disappointed when The Women finally arrived. I’ve been meaning to read something — anything — by Boyle for years and was absolutely enamored by his prose, his character sketches, his narrative pacing, and especially his diction (I had to look up 5 words on page 9 alone: lucubrate, ziggurat, anomie, Hibernian, vituperative…!). I devoured the 451 pages in 2 afternoons and wondered where the time went.
However, I did not like a single character and already knew the basic plot after having read Horan’s Loving Frank last year. I must admit, reading this during the Tiger Woods’ scandal was strange, to say the least. I do not read weekly magazines or watch TMZ — I honestly care little about the personal lives of famous people — and did feel a bit salacious reading about Wright’s dalliances. My husband and I share Wright’s aesthetic — as do so many Americans – and are building our new home in Colorado in the spirit of the prairie style (“of the hill, not on the hill”). I also know from teaching literature to adolescents for so many years that the idea of great artists and geniuses living outside the bounds of society is the norm, rather than the exception. To be a genius means you play by your own rules by definition. Was Wright arrogant? From his own admission, yes. Selfish? Myopic? Absolutely. These qualities are most likely necessary – to some degree — with every genius.
The more interesting question would be — what in the world were these women thinking?!? But even that question is stale by now — powerful men have always seduced women with little effort or thought to consequences.
So, I found the artistry in The Women not in the actual people behind the characters and their motivations, and certainly not in the pruient details of Wright’s personal life, but in the way Boyle can create a narrative that somehow supercedes all of the above unpleasantness. I do understand his reputation now and recommend that anyone who read Loving Frank try this novel — in order to see the same subject treated with a true artist’s hand.