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T.C. Boyle's 'Women' Recasts Frank Lloyd Wright Bio

Mar 3, 2009

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Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast hosted by NPR's Lynn Neary. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

T.C. Boyle lives in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in California. Boyle and his family moved into the George C. Stewart home 16 years ago. And that, he says, is when he first started contemplating a novel about one of America's best-known architects.

Now, that novel has arrived. The Women is a fictional account of Wright's life, from the perspective of the women he loved: the young Serbian dancer Olgivanna; Miriam, the morphine-addicted and obsessive Southern belle; Mamah, whose life ended tragically in a massacre at Taliesin, the home Wright built for his lovers and wives; and his first wife, Kitty, the mother of six of his children. Narrated by a Japanese architectural apprentice named Tadashi Sato, the story is told in reverse chronology, beginning when Wright is an elderly man.

The Women is the third novel Boyle has based on the life of an eccentric American historical figure. In The Road to Wellville, he imagined the life of John Harvey Kellogg, the man who gave us cornflakes. The author did the same for sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle. "What interests me are the passionate oddballs whose obsessions play down through the generations," Boyle said in a recent interview.

That approach has not been universally well-received. Writing in The New York Times, reviewer Michiko Kakutani said, "These reality-based plots inhibit the author's exuberant storytelling gifts."

But in The Dallas Morning News, John Freeman called Boyle's novels "gleaming zeppelins" looking "down upon the landscape of our history with a cheery, expansive view of sex, ambition and the great American desire to make a buck." And Freeman notes that it is "these beautiful, troubled, hilarious, tough-willed women who rise into view" by the end of the novel.

This reading of The Women took place on Feb. 12, 2009, at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Recorded at Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.

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