Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: The Women by T. C. Boyle

I wanted to like this book. I had heard great things when it first came out. I read and loved Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I had watched a PBS special about Frank Lloyd Wright by Ken Burns. So I had high hopes. And they were dashed.

For some reason, the author has written the book as if it were written in 1979 by a Japanese man who was one of Wright's assistants in the late 1930s, and then translated by his son in law. He has purportedly done research about all the wives previous to Olgivanna, Wright's wife when our "author" lived and worked at Taliesen, although it is written not as if it were researched by a third party, but from the points-of-view of various people in the story. So chapters are written from the point of view of Kitty, the first wife, Mameh, the first mistress, Miriam, the second wife, Olgivanna, and a few other people. Our "author" writes an introduction to each of the 3 sections of the book which is about himself. There is no author's note giving us readers a clue about whether or not Tadashi is also based on a real person.

So there is this very awkward and elaborate framing done, which intrudes throughout with footnotes from Tadashi, and in the end I found I was still at a loss as to what this frame was supposed to bring to the book, aside from demonstrating Boyle's clever writing skills. Also, the three sections each jumps back in time, which also was jarring and didn't seem to serve much purpose. The only reason for it was to end with the most dramatic event in Wright's life, which does not happen at the end of his life. So that seemed a little like a cop-out. And my other issue was regarding Miriam. She starts out the book. The whole first section which is supposed to be about Olgivanna, is dominated by Miriam (who won't give Frank a divorce so he can marry her.) Then naturally the second section, Miriam's section, is also all about Miriam. But the last 25% of the book, she just vanishes. She's dragged back in the last page as a way to try to balance it out, but one page can't make up for her having just disappeared for more than 100 pages. Finally, I found Boyle's writing long-winded (many sentences go on for paragraphs).

The material is interesting. Wright is a pompous ass and a ladies man, and he desperately wanted to be famous and yet hated journalists, so his life was inevitably going to be interesting. But the book felt very show-offy. I kept getting pulled out of the story by Boyle's many tricks for him to show me another one, when I didn't really care if there was a rabbit in his hat or if he would pick my card out of the deck - I wanted him to leave me alone so I could find out what happened. Good material, poor execution. If this book interests you, please read Loving Frank. I didn't hate it, but it did an excellent job of annoying me throughout.

I do not remember where I got this book, as I have had it for over two years. It is possible the publisher sent it to me, although not for a review as I did not have a blog at that point.


Jen said...

I just finished Loving Frank and really enjoyed it. After reading your honest review of this book, however, I don't think I'll be grabbing it. At least, not right away. :)

Rebecca Chapman said...

Why haven't I read anything by TC Boyle! (that's rhetorical by the way). I'll have to remedy it soon

Jenny said...

How strange! I've been wanting to read one of his books for a while but I think I'll start with either Tortilla Curtain or Inner Circle.

Anonymous said...

This book came very highly recommended - a real page turner. I've only read one chapter and so far I'm unimpressed -- and exhausted. It's too descriptive in my opinion -- the sentences run on and on. Also, I find the footnotes very distracting. I'll try another couple of chapters, but finishing the book does not seem promising.