Thursday, May 20, 2010

T. C. Boyle -- The Women

Awhile back -- in 1998, to be exact -- I was quite angry with T. C. Boyle. He had written a story which was published in the New Yorker, which depicted his version of the life of Baldasare Forestiere, one of my favorite eccentrics. Forestiere, a Sicilian immigrant, arrived in Fresno, California, in 1905, dreaming of farming his own land. Sold a patch of hardpan, Forestiere eventually tamed it, tunneling deep enough to find good fertile soil, building a home and planting an orchard in which trees lived underground and grew up through holes in the surface soil. I thought Boyle's story was disparaging and condescending, and was an unhealthy cross between fiction and biography.

Now I must change my opinion, or, rather, decide that this one story was uncharacteristically meanspirited. Boyle, is seems, has written a number of novels centered on American eccentrics, and most of them are very good. I have just finished The Women, a fictional retelling of the wife and mistresses of Frank Lloyd Wright. It's prime Boyle, filled with events and passions and Wright's living-on-the-edge flamboyant style. He failed to pay his bills, he built houses in which the roofs leaked and the fireplaces failed to warm the rooms, but his successes were dramatic and the customers who were happy were ecstatically happy. The women, now, that's another story. Even Boyle's skills fail to convince me that they are more than spoiled, needy and selfish.

The story is told by a fictional narrator, a Japanese apprentice who spends much of his young adulthood at Taliesin. His own story gives additional depth to Wright's biography.

I began reading this book with great misgivings, not only because of my memory of Forestiere but because E. L. Doctorow did such a misleading job of fictional biography in his story of the Collier Brothers. Boyle is an accomplished story-teller and a wise man, and I hope he's busy writing his new novel, whatever it is, right now.


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