Saturday, August 07, 2010

169 (2010 #34). The Women

by T. Coraghessan Boyle,
read by Grover Gardner

I listened to this audiobook because I've become fascinated with architect Frank Lloyd Wright after reading Loving Frank about a year ago. This book, also historical fiction/fictionalized biography, purportedly deals with all four of the main women in Wright's life, his three wives and his infamous mistress.

The book is narrated by a fictional Japanese apprentice named Tadashi Sato, who introduces each of the three parts of the book with a long narrative of his experiences with Wright in the 1930s and 1940s. I'm not quite sure why Boyle decided to do this (especially since Sato's words are supposedly translated by his Irish-American grandson-in-law, futher muddying the waters). It may be because Wright admired all things Japanese, being an avid collector of Japanese prints and other artwork (to the detriment of paying other bills). It may be because Boyle liked referring to Wright as "Wrieto-san." I thought that term was a little far-fetched, until I saw in Wright's autobiography that many Japanese apparently referred to him that way.

The three parts of the book deal with Wright's women in reverse chronological order. Part I concerns Olgivanna, the Montenegrin dancer 30 years his junior who was his third wife. Part II is about Miriam, the morphine-addicted Southern belle who was his second wife. Part III centers on Mamah, Wright's mistress and soulmate, after first touching on Kitty, his first wife of 20 years and mother of six of his children. It's likely Boyle organized his book this way so it could end with the climatic events of Mamah's murder.

That event, and Mamah herself, are covered better in Loving Frank, the publication of which resulted in the release of Boyle's book being held back, although it was completed in 2007. Between part I and Tadashi's introductions (all set during the time Wright was married to her), the reader learns a lot about Olgivanna. I felt Kitty was shorted in the book; I was left wanting to know more about her and her relationship with Wright.

Miriam dominates the book, appearing in all three parts (significantly, only at the very end of part III--which is also the end of the book). She's so over-the-top that it's easy to understand why Boyle lets her reign. I'd heard little of this woman before so it was a treat to read about her.

At first, award-winning narrator Grover Gardner didn't seem to be the right voice for this audiobook, particularly as it concerns so many women and a Japanese protagonist as well. However, I grew to like his "sandpaper and velvet" voice for the old-time radio-announcer feel it gave to this novel that is mostly set in the early 20th century. Boyle's flowery prose and frequent use of footnotes at times make the story hard to follow, particularly in audio format. But Wright and his women were so interesting that I had no trouble making it though this 15-disc set.

A couple interesting facts: Boyle lives in a 1909 Montecito, California, home designed by Wright for George C. Stewart, that is also known as "Butterfly Woods," and readily admits its influence. Also, Wright's son John Lloyd Wright, also an architect, was the inventor of Lincoln Logs in 1918. There's also a really cool trailer for this book on the author's website.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook was borrowed from my university library and has been returned.]

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