Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer reading 3

The Women
by T.C. Boyle


We enter the world of Frank Lloyd Wright and the cult of personality that surrounded him at his compound Taliesin and find the iconic and inconsistently brilliant architect as the center who spent much of his time managing his reputation, manipulating his followers, student architects and engineers, into doing the grungy and tedious work of preparing his various projects, attempting to borrow money or extend his exhausted credit lines and, as the title suggests, wooing women and then betraying them. 

The upshot is that Wright is less than the Frank Lloyd Wright cult would have us believe, that he was without flaws; T.C.Boyle relishes the chance to exhibit the man as a self-creating blowhard, more persona than center, who was by historical accounts not the most thorough of architects. It wouldn't unfair to say that as an architect he may have been a splendid designer--his buildings have a majesty and grace only the truly touched seem to render with ease--but in technical aspects he was resoundingly incompetent, given to short cuts , half measures, and shoddy workmanship on the smaller , essential things, like safe and certified electrical work. 

To this day his buildings are crumbling, and the novel shows us the grandness that is his home, Taliesen, burning to the ground because the Maestro couldn't be bothered with a thorough inspection of the work that bore his signature. This is a fine comic novel, the latest in Boyle's ongoing series of historical fictions revealing the fun and folly of scorched earth originality. Imperfect humans are the creators of otherwise beautiful and useful things. 

One does wish that Boyle would finesse his sentences and paragraphs a bit more--he is a good prose stylist when he chooses to be, but too often and for too long his writing sounds rushed, which is ironic, really , considering that a main point of this novel, a group portrait of the lovers and sycophants surrounding Wright, is that Wright was a splendid and artful draftsman who didn't see to the smaller details of his designs. So to Boyle does not lift his passages from the mere , pleasurable hum they are and lift them to a richer music.