by T.C. Boyle is a novel about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright; specifically, it follows his lesser-known, tumultuous personal life, including a series of failed romances. The novel follows Wright, in all his confusing wonder, as he takes risks and gets lucky, designs strange and adventurous buildings, fails to pay his bills, and gets involved in a series of messy, sometimes violent relationships with women. The narrator, Tadashi Sato (a fictional apprentice to Wright) is familiar with many of Wright's romances. He tells the story of Wright's life in detail, admitting along the way that he might not have known his mentor as well as he thought setting out.
The novel opens as Tadashi explains his role in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, conveying his personal connections to Wright's third wife and children. Though Tadashi narrates, the focus of the novel is on his mentor, an eccentric and volatile man. Tadashi admits that he was just one of the cogs in the machine of Wright's architectural work, not claiming to have any stronger a connection than any other apprentice. That being said, he is the ideal guide for the novel, providing intimate details about the real goings-on of his boss’s many affairs.
The book is set up in a series of sections, each focusing on a different woman and a different period in Wright's life. The narrator explains that Wright created his country estate, Taliesin, both to escape from the hawk-like eyes of the press and to which to bring his wife – and his many lovers. The women involved are numerous. The first, his wife Kitty, was the mother of his six children. Wright's last wife, Olgivanna, also plays a role in the story, though not nearly as significant a role as Wright's second wife, Miriam, and his lover Mamah.
Boyle stays close to fact when writing about Mamah. She was a lover of Wright's, whom he kept in Taliesin along with her children. In an event widely covered by the media, Mamah and all of her children were brutally murdered at Taliesin by one of the servants working in the house during her courtship with Wright. The events were devastating to Wright and made his already fraught romantic life seem not only extravagant, but also violent and dangerous to outsiders.
Following the death of Mamah, Miriam appears. She first meets Wright when she sends him a letter of consolation after hearing about the murder of his lover. She becomes, afterward, the liveliest of all the figures presented in the novel and the wildest of Wright's wives. She agrees, by her account, to become Wright's “adornment” – she leaves her family behind and commits her life to Wright, abandoning her children to live with him at Taliesin.
Miriam is the most complicated character in the novel, portrayed in some ways as a femme fatale, but as a femme fatale who continues to keep readers guessing. She matches Wright's horrific mood swings with her own volatile mood, changing her appearance and personality to suit his needs. She insists, despite knowing that Wright is a chronic cheater and is always falling in and out of love, that she is the only woman Wright will ever need in his life. Of course, the marriage doesn't end well, and Wright moves on to his last wife, leaving Miriam devastated and stricken with grief.
Ultimately, the novel depicts an eccentric genius as a man not only with talent, but also with a deeply personal life that had a lasting impact on the women involved in it. Readers are left wondering if they truly know any of the characters, or could ever know them, or if it is possible to know anyone at all.
T.C. Boyle is a novelist and short-story writer. Born in the Hudson Valley, he often depicts the place in his books and stories. He has published eleven short story collections, seventeen novels, and has won a number of awards for his work, including a PEN/Faulkner Award. He was the founder of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Southern California, where he still serves as a Professor Emeritus.