The Women

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From "America's most imaginative contemporary novelist" (Newsweek), a novel of Frank Lloyd Wright and the women in his life.

Having brought to life eccentric cereal king John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle now turns his fictional sights on an even more colorful and outlandish character: Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle's incomparable account of Wright's life is told through the experiences of the four women who ...

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From "America's most imaginative contemporary novelist" (Newsweek), a novel of Frank Lloyd Wright and the women in his life.

Having brought to life eccentric cereal king John Harvey Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle now turns his fictional sights on an even more colorful and outlandish character: Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle's incomparable account of Wright's life is told through the experiences of the four women who loved him. There's the Montenegrin beauty Olgivanna Milanoff, the passionate Southern belle Maude Miriam Noel, the tragic Mamah Cheney, and his young first wife, Kitty Tobin. Blazing with his trademark wit and inventiveness, Boyle deftly captures these very different women and the creative life in all its complexity.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
A revelatory view of a genius creator, his wives and his lovers….

In this dazzling historical novel, master architect Frank Lloyd Wright comes alive through the words of four women he loved. Their voices are radically dissimilar: Montenegrin ballerina Olgivanna Milanoff; tempestuous southern belle Maud Miriam Noel; free-spirited, tragically fated Mamah Cheney; and artist Kitty Tobin, Wright's first wife. In The Women, adventurous novelist T. C. Boyle (The Road to Wellville; The Inner Circle) exposes Wright's deep-seeded resistance to convention in every arena of his life.
Marie Arana
The Women is an altogether manic, occasionally baffling and yet strangely riveting novel…Boyle is a marvel at descriptive prose…So you go on, from scene to scene, marveling at a turn of phrase or some well-articulated emotion. As with a fickle lover, it's the words that keep you there.
—The Washington Post
Joanna Scott
Boyle doesn't just fiddle around with familiar biographical material. He inhabits the space of Wright's life and times with particular boldness…With his rollicking short fiction and with novels that include The Road to Wellville, The Inner Circle and Drop City, Boyle has been writing his own fascinating, unpredictable, alternately hilarious and terrifying fictional history of utopian longing in America. The Women adds a powerful new chapter to this continuing narrative, and it is Boyle at his best. It is a mesmerizing story of women who invest everything, at great risk, in that mysterious "bank of feeling" named Frank Lloyd Wright.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Rising and falling in steady rhythm, soothing even when the story unsettles and surprises, Grover Gardner's voice is a fine instrument. He delivers a stellar rendition of Boyle's reimagining of Frank Lloyd Wright's tortured relationships with his wives and lovers-and his obsession with Taliesin, his home in Wisconsin, which suffered no less than the architect or his women. Gardner, a regular prize-winner who's done more than 650 audiobooks, is familiar to audio listeners, but he strikes new notes, hurdling over difficult names and nimbly skipping from character to character. Readers will be entirely immersed in the hothouse world of the architect and his women. A Viking hardcover(Reviews, Nov. 17).(Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In his trademark style, Boyle ( uses a fictional narrator to tell the story of an American original: Frank Lloyd Wright, that flamboyant genius of 20th-century architecture. The tale unfolds through the experiences of four women who loved Wright: the Montenegrin beauty Olgivanna Milanoff, the passionate Maude Miriam Noel, the spirited Mamah Borthwick Cheney, and Wright's devoted first wife, Catherine "Kitty" Tobin. Narrator Grover Gardner, a Publishers WeeklyNarrator of the Year (2005), navigates the complicated story line with ease, reading with a distinctive clipped accent that could almost be Japanese (the novel's narrator is Wright apprentice Tadashi Sato, newly arrived from Japan). An excellent choice for fans of popular and literary fiction. [Audio clip available through; the Viking hc was recommended "for most fiction collections," LJ12/08.—Ed.]—Nann Blaine Hilyard, Zion-Benton P.L., IL

—Nann Blaine Hilyard
Kirkus Reviews
When the artist formerly known as T. Coraghessan Boyle burst onto the national literary scene some 30 years ago, readers knew immediately that an immensely smart, versatile and entertaining new writer was staking his claim to some of the territory held by such reader-friendly wizards of narrative and rhetoric as Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme. To put it another way, Susan Sontag's sonorous declamations about the cultural legitimacy of "camp" found a lively correlative in the stories of Boyle's first collection Descent of Man (1979)-six more have followed. Who could resist crisp, in-your-face tales about the wretched excesses of pillaging Norsemen, or the spectacle of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin disporting himself at a Dadaist arts festival? Then, before we'd all stopped chuckling, Boyle produced his richly imagined and detailed debut novel Water Music (1981), in which historical Scottish explorer Mungo Park's African exploits became the vehicle for vivid observations and riffs on the nature of intellectual adventuring, heroism and arduously acquired self-knowledge. Boyle's subsequent novels have ranged from visions of fear and loathing in California's drug culture to the perils of the Internet-and commanded especially high visibility when reinterpreting well-known American success-and-failure stories, notably in deft fictionalizations of the complicated lives of cereal-king health faddist John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville, 1993) and innovative sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle, 2004). The Women, Boyle's 12th novel, tackles another flawed American icon: the great architect and world-class egomaniac Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), whose unique accomplishments wererepeatedly compromised because-as this novel's narrator informs us-"throughout his life, especially in times of duress, [Wright] sought the company of women." That narrator-Japanese architectural student Sato Tadashi, who becomes one of numerous "acolytes" laboring unpaid at Wright's huge Wisconsin estate Taliesin-tells, in reverse order, the stories of Wright's four great loves: the Montenegrin beauty (Olgivanna) who succeeds his fiery Southern mistress Maude Miriam Noel (a madder, more vituperative Zelda Fitzgerald), Wright's soul mate Mamah Cheney (whom he appropriates from her husband and children) and first wife Kitty, displaced by Mamah (who, like the doomed edifice of Taliesin, seems chosen to pay for the adulterous genius's sins). All of Boyle's colorful skills are fully engaged in his latest (as, to be fair, are his tendencies toward redundancy and overemphasis). It's a performance worthy of the writer who has, in interviews and on his informative website, acknowledged the influences of Flannery O'Connor, Evelyn Waugh and Gabriel Garc'a Marquez. I'd argue that Dickens and Shakespeare also must loom prominently in the imagination of a writer so adept at the creation of improbably beguiling comic grotesques. And Boyle's warmhearted, coldly calculating, ineffably seductive and unknowable Frank Lloyd Wright may be the most beguiling of them all.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Frank Lloyd Wright, visionary architect and center of what was tantamount to a cult, has already been the subject of a novel in the last couple of years (Loving Frank by Nancy Horan). And here he is again, this time taking his place in T. C. Boyle's gallery of wickedly drawn American gurus: John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville), Alfred C. Kinsey (The Inner Circle), and the fictional Norm Spender (Drop City). A canny friend to humanity and driven presenter of his own designs as nature's, Wright is just the man for a writer possessing a pen as adept as Boyle's in portraying power games and nature's dark side -- human and otherwise.

In his own and in his faithful acolytes' estimation, Wright was the 20th century's greatest architect, a genius and seer whose designs promised liberation from the stultification of modern industrial society and the straitjacket that was its architecture. He was also an incorrigible philanderer. His three marriages and untold number of affairs included a pivotal liaison with the wife of a man for whom he had designed a house. This was Mamah Cheney, a soulful advocate of women's rights and free love, for whom Wright eventually left his first wife and six children in 1909. (Mamah left not only her husband but also two children.) The scandal threatened to end Wright's career, and he hightailed it to Europe, spending some of his time there with Mamah. Eventually, he returned to the U.S. and in 1911 built Taliesin in Wisconsin, a house conforming to his idea that the good life rose out of the organic unity of house, earth, and light. Mamah joined him; but three years later, she and her visiting children and four other people were murdered by a crazed servant who then set fire to the house.

It is toward this tragic event that the book travels, though it does so backward through the minds of its major characters: the four central women, an apprentice, the mad servant, and Wright, himself. Though we begin with Wright's first meeting Olga, the woman who would eventually become his third wife, the book really explodes into color when it enters the nutsy inner life of Miriam, his second wife, who has left him but is not at all prepared to divorce him. "Yes," she reflects, "she'd left him. Of course she had. Anyone would have.... He was impossible. The single most infuriating being she'd ever met, what with his God complex and his perfectionism, fussing over every last detail as if the world depended on it, his snoring, his musical evenings, the utter soul-crushing desolation of rural Wisconsin where he all but kept her a prisoner and every overfed housewife and goggling rube staring at her as it she had the letter A sewed to the front of her dress. Of course she left him. But that didn't mean she didn't love him still."

Miriam is the helpmeet from hell who entered Wright's life after Mamah's death. Reading about the tragedy in the newspaper, she wrote to him offering sympathy and understanding, appealing to what we may call Wright's higher nature: his sense of his own beleaguered genius, of being beset by littleness, by clients balking at cost overruns, by bill collectors and lawyers hounding him with their petty demands, by the press dragging his reputation through the mud, by "the deep-dwelling ignorance of his countrymen."

Boyle clearly relishes the spectacle of Wright's flattered vanity, as well as his swagger and panache: the great man "strutting up and down as if he owned every square inch of every place he stepped into," or "prancing...cane twirling...the tails of his cape flapping in the brisk breeze he generated all on his own." The genius architect is shown throughout to be self-centered, controlling, and slippery in matters of money ("Frank...considered an invoice a kind of memorial only"). But, somehow, the book belongs to Miriam, if only because her own megalomania is so affronted by Wright's, and its explosions show Boyle at his pyrotechnical best. The reader, at least the uncharitable one, simply revels in the coruscating rants the author has cooked up for her. Her soul is a toxic gallimaufry of emotions, vanity, resentment, acquisitiveness, neediness, vengefulness, and blistering jealousy. Only the shots of morphine to which she is addicted reduce her boiling state to a simmer, and that not for long.

Olga, Mamah, and Kitty, Wright's first wife, are far more sympathetic and, indeed, poignantly drawn characters, though again, Boyle is in his element, his prose all aflame, in representing their thoughts when there are overwrought -- which is, to be sure, given their circumstances, a good deal of the time. It is they, in their self-sacrifice and thralldom to Wright's magnetism, who throw into relief the man's overweening self-regard, his presumption in taking to himself every good thing, his forgiving himself for his trespasses.

One must mention here that the story's way of getting itself told is eccentric. In an introduction, purportedly written by a supposed Japanese architect and former Wright apprentice, Tadashi Sato, we learn that the narrative to follow has been written by him and Seamus O'Flaherty, his Irish-American grandson-in-law, who has also translated the text. It is a structural accouterment that never makes sense. Coming to Taliesin in 1932, well into Wright's last marriage, Tadashi -- to say nothing of his young relation -- could not know of the dialogue, never mind the inner thoughts, he presents with such verisimilitude. And yet, in a further incongruity, footnotes, of which there are many, quiz and gloss the text as if it were the historical record. In the end, however, The Women is so thoroughly enjoyable that the annoyance -- rather like the leaks that so bedeviled Frank Lloyd Wright's own constructions -- is simply a detail. --Katherine A. Powers

Katherine A. Powers writes the literary column "A Reading Life" for the Boston Sunday Globe and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116479
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/29/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 297,345
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Coraghessan Boyle

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.


In the interest of time and space, it might be easier to note the writers that T. C. Boyle isn't compared to. But let's give the reverse a try: Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Berger, Robert Coover, Lorrie Moore, Stanley Elkin, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor.

Oh, let's not forget F. Lee Bailey. And Dr. Seuss.

Boyle, widely admired for his acrobatic verbal skill, wild narratives and quirky characters (in one short story, he imagines a love affair between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev's wife), has dazzled critics since his first novel in 1981.

Consider this example, from Larry McCaffery in a 1985 article for The New York Times: "Beneath its surface play, erudition and sheer storytelling power, his fiction also presents a disturbing and convincing critique of an American society so jaded with sensationalized images and plasticized excess that nothing stirs its spirit anymore.... It is into this world that Mr. Boyle projects his heroes, who are typically lusty, exuberant dreamers whose wildly inflated ambitions lead them into a series of hilarious, often disastrous adventures."

But as much as critics will bow at his linguistic gifts, some also knock him for resting on them a bit too heavily, hinting that the impressive showmanship attempts to hide a shortage of depth and substance.

Craig Seligman, writing in The New Republic in 1993, pointed out that "Boyle loves a mess. He loves chaos. He loves marshes and jungles, and he loves the jungle of language: luxuriant sentences overgrown with lianas of lists, sesquipedalian words hanging down like rare fruits. For all its exoticism, though, his prose is lucid to the point of transparency. It doesn't require much deeper concentration than a good newspaper (though it does require a dictionary)."

Reviewing The Tortilla Curtain in 1995, New York Times critic Scott Spencer scratched his head over why Boyle had invited readers along for this particular ride: "Mr. Boyle's fictional strategy is puzzling. Why are we being asked to follow the fates of characters for whom he clearly feels such contempt? Not surprisingly, this is ultimately off-putting. Perhaps Mr. Boyle has received too much praise for his zany sense of humor; in this book, that wit often seems merely a maddening volley of cheap shots. It's like living next door to a gun nut who spends all day and half the night shooting at beer bottles."

Growing up, Boyle had no aspirations to be a writer. It wasn't until his studies at State University of New York, where he as a music student, that he bumped into his muse. "I went there to be a music major but found I really couldn't hack that at the age of 17," he told The Writer in 1999. "I just started to read outside my classes -- literature and history. I wound up being a history and English major; when I wandered into a creative writing class as a junior, I realized that writing was what I could do."

He then started teaching, in part to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and later applied to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

After a collection of short stories in 1979, he released his first novel, Water Music, called "pitiless and brilliant" by The New Republic, and has shuttled back and forth between novels and short stories, all known for their explosions of character imagination. Mr. Boyle's literary sensibility ... thrives on excess, profusion, pushing past the limits of good taste to comic extremes," McCaffery wrote in his 1985 New York Times piece. "He is a master of rendering the grotesque details of the rot, decay and sleaze of a society up to its ears in K Mart oil cans, Kitty Litter and the rusted skeletons of abandoned cars and refrigerators."

In his review of Drop City, the 2003 novel set in California commune that won Boyle a National Book Award nomination, Dwight Garner joins the chorus of critical acclaim over the years – "Boyle has always been a fiendishly talented writer" – but he also acknowledges some of the criticism that Boyle has faced in these same years.

"The rap against Boyle's work has long been that he's a sort of madcap predator drone, raining down hard nuggets of contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor on the poor men and women in his books while rarely giving us characters we're actually persuaded to feel anything about," he wrote. "This is partly a bum rap -- and I'd hate to knock contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor -- but there's enough truth in it that it's a joy to find, in Drop City that Boyle gives us a lot more than simply a line of bong-addled innocents led to slaughter."

But perhaps the neatest summary of Boyle's work would be from Lorrie Moore, one of the novelists to which he has been compared. In a 1994 New York Times review of Boyle's short story collection Without a Hero, she praised Boyle's "astonishing and characteristic verve, his unaverted gaze, his fascination with everything lunatic and queasy."

"God knows, Mr. Boyle can write like an angel," she continues later, "if at times a caustic, gum-chewing one. And in this strong, varied collection maybe we have what we'd hope to find in heaven itself (by the time we begged our way there): no lessening of brilliance, plus a couple of laughs to mitigate all that high and distant sighing over what goes on below."

Good To Know

Boyle changed his middle name from John to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun") when he was 17.

He is known almost as much for his ego as his writing. "Each book I put out, I think, 'Goodbye, Updike and Mailer, forget it," The New Republic quoted him as saying. "I joke at Viking that I'm going to make them forget the name of Stephen King forever, I'm going to sell so many copies.

Boyle's philosophy on reading and writing, as told to The Writer: "Good literature is a living, brilliant, great thing that speaks to you on an individual and personal level. You're the reader. I think the essence of it is telling a story. It's entertainment. It's not something to be taught in a classroom, necessarily. To be alive and be good, it has to be a good story that grabs you by the nose and doesn't let you go till The End."

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    1. Also Known As:
      T.C. Boyle
    2. Hometown:
      Santa Barbara California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Peekskill, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

In a scene from T.C. Boyle’s The Women, Frank Lloyd Wright declares himself the greatest architect in the world. Wright was in court at the time and defended his claim to the judge by stating, “Well, Your Honor . . . I am under oath” (p. 380). While some might fault him for his arrogance, no one can deny that he remains one of modern architecture’s preeminent figures. In his day, however, he received as much publicity for his extramarital affairs as for his buildings. His romantic life was as flamboyantly unconventional as his creations, and the two were often deeply intertwined. Boyle, no stranger to eccentric historical figures, explores Wright’s private and public lives at their literal intersection: Taliesin, his thrice-destroyed Wisconsin estate-cum-love-nest, which he built (and rebuilt) for the women he loved.

While The Women’s obvious narrator would be Wright himself—or perhaps his various lovers—the work is instead narrated by one of Wright’s apprentices, Tadashi Sato. Annotated with Sato’s personal asides and clarifications, the novel explains that Tadashi’s original text was written in Japanese and translated into English by his Irish American grandson-in-law. Thus secure—we think—in the hands of its narrator, The Women launches into Wright’s affair with Olgivanna Milanoff, the last of his three wives.

Wright first meets Olga at an opera performance in Chicago. He is nearly sixty and she is much younger—though old enough to have married, borne a daughter, and become an acolyte of the mystic philosopher Gurdjieff. Entranced by her beauty and exotic carriage, Wright literally plucks her out of the audience and woos her into his bed and away to Taliesin. Unfortunately, he is still married to his previous wife, Maude Miriam Noel, who is enraged when she hears of the affair and leverages the not-inconsequential power of the press to sway public opinion—and the law—against Wright and his new lover.

Wright’s chronic indiscretion is his undoing. Miriam had left him to nurse her morphine addiction in California and might have remained ignorant of his new affair if he hadn’t impregnated Olga while claiming she was Taliesin’s housekeeper (this was, incidentally, the same uninspired cover he’d used years earlier for Miriam when she was his mistress and he was still married to his first wife). His equal in passion if not in brilliance, Miriam was once a celebrated Southern belle and later a sculptress in Paris who insinuated herself into his life at a time when Wright was grieving for an earlier mistress—the brutally murdered Mamah Borthwick.

It was for Mamah that Wright had left Kitty Tobin, his wife of twenty years and the mother of his six children. Savaged by the press—as Miriam and Olga would be in their turn—Mamah was an early feminist who abandoned her own husband and two children to be with Wright. It was also for Mamah that he broke ground for the first incarnation of Taliesin. There, sheltered from society and their spouses’ recriminations, the two found happiness until an axe-wielding madman cut it all short.

Boyle has won wide acclaim for powerfully told tales peopled by characters outside the mainstream. In Wright, he has found an ideal subject—a man as compelling personally as professionally, whose hubris was as prodigious as his achievements and passions—and the result is a sly, revelatory portrait of a quintessentially American genius.


T.C. Boyle has written eleven novels, including The Road to Wellville, about John Harvey Kellogg, the eccentric nutritionist and inventor of cornflakes, and The Inner Circle, about sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey. Among his other novels are World’s End, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award; Drop City, a National Book Award finalist; and The Tortilla Curtain, winner of France’s Prix Médicis Étranger. He has also published eight collections of short fiction, and his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and the Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Awards annual volumes. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, in the George C. Stewart house, the first of Frank Lloyd Wright’s California designs, which will celebrate its centennial in 2009.

Q. How long have you lived in the George C. Stewart house? What is it like to inhabit a Wright design?

My wife and I and our three children have lived here for sixteen years. During that time we have done out best to restore it, a task that included sanding and refinishing the woodwork with Wright’s own mixture of linseed oil and turpentine, doing an earthquake retrofit and jacking up the east end of the house, which had been listing toward the rising sun, in order to pour foundations. The experience of living here is otherwise rich and varied, the landscape lush, the lines of the house, with its layered battens, as dramatic as those of an Aztec temple. In short, it’s pretty cool.

Q. Did you always plan to write a novel about Wright? What draws you to a particular subject?

Ever since we moved in, I’d wanted to learn as much as I could about the architect, by way of understanding and appreciating how his genius had touched us personally. Throughout my time here I had contemplated writing about aspects of his furiously complicated life and work, but other books and subjects intervened. Finally, in 2006, I began research and completed writing in July, a year later.

Q. In addition to Wright, you’ve also written novels about John Harvey Kellogg and Alfred C. Kinsey. If you had to choose between being Kellogg, Kinsey, or Wright, whom would you pick and why?

Each of these three hugely influential figures of the twentieth century was an egomaniac and a narcissist who could not relate to people except as they fit into his scheme. Novelists are a lot like that. Which is why, I suppose, I am attracted to such figures. On the other hand, each led a life that would have put me in the mental hospital within a year. So, I’ll equivocate: none of the above.

Q. What’s more fun to write, historical or contemporary fiction? What kind of obligation do you feel to a historical subject (e.g. Wright)?

I get a charge (obviously) out of both the contemporary and historical settings. In fact, creating art—living in a dream most of the days of my life—is a kind of miracle I will never tire of. As for my obligation to historical subjects, I feel no constraints whatever and follow the path the story lays out for me. That said, I do like to present these odd characters and odd bits of history as they actually happened for the great good fun of it. To my mind, history wasn’t necessarily made by generals and politicians, but by visionaries who changed the way we live and think. Wright, Kellogg and Kinsey certainly qualify in spades.

Q. Can you discuss your choice of narrator? Was there a real Tadashi Sato?

Tadashi Sato is an invented character, but of course the apprenticeship was international, and Wright was very much influenced by Japanese culture and architecture. If Tadashi didn’t actually exist, then he should have. Certainly there were any number of acolytes flocking to Taliesin to bask in the aura of the great man, and I like to think that Tadashi is representative of them.

Q. In the course of your research, what was the most revealing thing you discovered about Wright? What nonfiction resources would you recommend to someone interested in learning more about him?

The thing that most interested me about Wright was how different his method of creation was from my own. I need peace, serenity, beauty, a good dog, and a good night’s sleep in order to create. Wright needed scandal, lawsuits, animus, tumult, mayhem, and catastrophe just to feel alive and engaged. God bless him. It takes all kinds. As for nonfiction works on Wright, they are innumerable—perhaps more books have been published on him and his work than practically any other figure of the past century, some one thousand or more. I list a number of the more engaging titles in my acknowledgments.

Q. Miriam’s presence dominates the book, inhabiting a good many of the chapters about Olga and closing Mamah’s section. Did she similarly dominate Wright’s life? Are the excerpts of Miriam’s letters real or did you create them?

Miriam came to dominate my life as well. She was a furious, heartbreaking, delusional and grandiose woman, and yet she was afflicted by the same needs and hungers that afflict us all: the need for security, love, affirmation. Make of her a figure of fun but also, on a deeper level, of tragedy. As for her letters, some are invented (after her style) and some paraphrased from the actual letters which were printed in the newspapers. Her scandals—and those of Olgivanna, Kitty and Mamah—made for the juiciest tabloid reading of the day.

Q. Why did you choose not to include more about Kitty and Wright’s first family?

This phase of Wright’s life, when he used his prodigious energies and genius to formulate his Prairie style and build the majority of his houses in the Midwest, could take up a book all on its own. But the story is more conventional than what was to follow and, perhaps, not quite as compelling or racy or tragic.

Q. In a footnote, you make a little dig at your own profession, writing, in describing one of Wright’s casual lovers: “like all novelists, she had unrealistic expectations” (p. 27). Do you think that authors tend to be more demanding in a romantic relationship than other people?

Authors tend to be more demanding in all modes of life than other people. They are, like Miriam, delusional. And they are, for the most part, not a pretty lot at all. Are there exceptions? Are there novelists as pure and shot-through with benignity as the saints themselves? Well, maybe one.

Q. In your view, are there similarities between writing fiction and architecture?

But of course. The architect constructs his drawings from the same sort of vision a novelist sees as he/she begins to construct a story with the bricks and mortar of words. The difference is in the improvisation. The architect, finally, works from plans, but we build our word-houses day by day, adding by accretion (and sometimes reducing by subtraction) until the ultimate shape reveals itself.

Q. What are you working on now?

Ah, what pure joy! Work is the essence of my life and the reason I am able to face the world each day (without coffee: I was born naturally caffeinated). For next year, I’ve already delivered a book of fourteen stories called Wild Child. For the following year, if the fates allow, I hope to present my next novel, now about halfway finished. It’s called When the Killing’s Done, and it has a contemporary setting and returns to the theme that seems to dominate my work in recent years: our place in nature.


  • Imagine that you are Olga arriving at Taliesin for the first time, knowing everything you do about its previous two incarnations and the women who inspired them. What would you be feeling?
  • How does Boyle’s choice of narrator affect your reading of the novel?
  • Miriam’s first argument with Wright is over the fancy French meal she serves him. In what ways did his taste in food shape the major events of his life?
  • If Mamah hadn’t been murdered, might she and Wright have stayed happily together? What do you think of Ellen Key’s assertion that women have “the right to love in their own instinctual way”? (p. 385). Does this include adultery and abandoning her children?
  • Just before Miriam marries Wright, she reads her own translation of a Japanese poem: “The memories of long love,/gather like drifting snow . . . poignant as the Mandarin ducks/who float side by side in sleep” (p. 306). Mamah had translated a Goethe poem for Wright: “Call it happiness! . . . Heart! Love! God!/I have no name/For it! Feeling is everything!” (p. 352). What does each quote tell about the woman who chose it?
  • Do you think Wright ever found his soulmate?
  • Consider Wright’s flagrant solicitation of loans he never intended to repay. Does a visionary owe a greater obligation to his art or to the social contract?
  • What do you make of Wright’s demand for exemplary behavior—no drinking, carousing, or romantic entanglements outside marriage—from his apprentices?
  • Have you ever visited a Wright building? If so, describe the experience.
  • Does Boyle’s portrait of Wright accord with your own notions about the architect?
  • Do you read many novels about historical figures? What kind of entrée does fiction provide that mere fact cannot?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 108 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 108 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Of love, not architecture!

    This is my first TC Boyle book but it wont be my last. I saw the movie ¿Road to Wellville¿ and was not impressed but I am now interested in reading the book. I was lead to the ¿The Woman¿ after reading the excellent ¿Loving Frank.¿ Prior to this I did not know much about Frank Lloyd Wright other than he was a famous architect, and I had no idea about his interesting love life. Both books are really about the women in his life. ¿Loving Frank¿ is really about irrepressible and unconventional Mamah Cheney, but ¿The Women¿ is Mr. Wright brought to life through the eyes of the four woman who love him: Olgivanna Milanoff; Maud Miriam Noel, Mamah Cheney, and his first wife, Kitty Tobin. Wright is a bigger than life figure who¿s story today is just as fascinating as it was back in the first half of the 20th century. One of the original modern celebrities, but unlike most of today¿s fakers this man had real talent. The heart of this story though his Boyle¿s writing and how he brings these unconventional characters to life. You can tell he has done his research and knows his subject, but with his fiction he brings these people to life in away that dry nonfiction can never do. Boyle creates living breathing characters from the historical record and takes us inside their minds. How can he really know these peoples inner most thoughts? This does not really matter for the truth of what he has created jumps off the page. Sometimes fiction does a better job of revealing truth than historical facts. I look forward to reading Boyle¿s earlier works! For more excellent historical fiction do try Misfits Country Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable brought to life!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2009

    Buy it used or get it from the library!

    Thesis style writing with footnotes was bothersome. Not much insight on the heart and soul of Frank himself. Slow beginning but did pick up toward the end at which point I was very interested. (However, I was not particularly drawn to the book).

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Not that Great

    It's kind of a rip off on Loving Frank, the book about Mammah and FLW. I agree with one of the other reviewers that this book is hard to follow as it jumps from woman to woman and back to woman to woman. It is also hard to tell who is telling the story. If you think you want to read this, check it out at the library, save your money. And if you like FLW, you must read Loving Frank.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2009

    Not what I expected

    I was really interested in this book both from a recomendation based on an NPR interview and the fact that I am interested in the designs of Wright's. I am sorry that I purchased this book. The style is hard to follow. I have not even finished it because it did not keep my attention. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were not in the semi-biographical style with the footnotes. I wish that I had just borrowed it from the library were I could have returned it.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2009

    not light reading

    This book had trouble keeping my attention. The author wrote long, and unnecessary descriptions of almost everything and it seemed to be more of a screenplay than a novel (leave some things up to the reader's imagination, please!). I certainly don't expect simple language in a novel, but does a reader need a thesaurus to get through a book just so the author can sound sophisticated? Not a favorite.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2009

    Mixed reaction

    I thought the information provided about Frank Lloyd Wright was interesting to say the least, but the way the story was put together didn't work for me. The sequencing of events was confusing/annoying. I pushed myself to finish the book. I think I would have preferred a non-fiction account.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A captivating life story that enthralls the reader.

    Boyle tells the accounts of the four women that greatly loved Frank Lloyd Wright. It¿s brilliantly written, keeping me captivated throughout this fascinating story. This sometimes hilarious other times shocking biographical story of Wright, is a must have for anyone interested in the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the complexity of his life.<BR/><BR/>Being an English teacher, a poet and writer of novels George¿s Pond and West¿s Time Machine, I was engrossed that Boyle¿s four women touches upon the most sensitive areas of Wrights life, those of triumph and those of obsession. The story is wonderfully unpredictable, whisking the reader into Wright¿s world. An absolutely new perspective by those that knew him the most.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    an engaging biographical fiction

    Frank Lloyd Wright lived a life of triumph and defeat all in the public eye. Whether he designed a remarkable edifice like his Wisconsin home Taliesin or an affair he seemed bigger than life. Four women loved him though surely there were others: Montenegro dancer Olgivanna, Miriam the drug addicted Southern belle, Kitty the first wife; and Mamah the intellectual equal who was murdered. <BR/><BR/>Told mostly by Wright¿s apprentice Japanese-American Tadashi Sato, this is an engaging biographical fiction. The story line looks at the great twentieth century architect through the musings of four females who loved him as each looks back at their relationship with him. Ironically, the show is stolen from the star and the titled characters by the narrator. Tadashi as the sole survivor is the only one whose opinion of Wright changes and whose wry thoughtful commentary throughout the novel add much of the complexity of trying to describe this multifaceted person; how complicated is symbolized by the remarkable Taliesin where much tragedy occurred. <BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2011

    Don't bother!

    One of the worst books I've read. I only finished it because of the hype when it first came out (I figured it had to get better). Dull read and uninspired writting; sorry I spent money on it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    discovering buildings

    having just read tc boyle's "the women," i, like its narrator, can't imagine what the world might look like without frank lloyd wright, the world's best-known architect alongside m. i. pei. like jazz and billie holiday, frank lloyd wright is one of the really really great things america is known for. his imperial hotel in tokyo withstood the 1923 kanto earthquake that destroyed the rest of the city, including the palace, and left 2 million homeless. the hotel became a sanctuary to some of those displaced. fallingwater in pennsylvania is the foremost example of organic architecture, where living space and nature blend into one. the guggenheim in new york city is a spinning world of its own, the building far outshining the collection of precious artwork inside. and to add some great structures his sons and apprentices have built, among them the wayfayers chapel in palos verdes.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Women

    I picked this book from the bestsellers. I had read something on Frank Lloyd Wright before so I was attracted to the topic. It was great!! What a jerk he was to some of the women in his life! I bought a copy for a friend of mine to read. She loved it too.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Not a pretty picture of FLW or his women!

    I was distracted by the narrator of the story who only ever met FLW's 3rd wife, yet spent much of the book focused on the 2nd wife. I found very little endearing about the characters. It was a hard read, although the 2nd half of the book got better.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    For Frank Lloyd Wright Enthusiasts

    As somewhat of a scholar on Frank Lloyd Wright, I find the book enjoyable as the author fictionalizes the relationships between Wright and three women in his life. Because it weaves together reality with fantasy, I recommend it with the caveat that the reader understands this genre of writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Engrossing Read!

    I enjoyed reading this book from the first few paragraphs. The connection between "Frank" and each of these ladies amazes me. Could you find more opposing personalities? Can you believe that anyone could survive all the drama and unpaid bills and come out of it with his "great" reputation? It is my first T.C. Boyle book. It won't be the last.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2009

    A disappointing backward history

    Maybe it's because I bought this in audiobook form, but I was very disappointed the way the book was written. I thought something monumental was going to happen and that's why the story started "backward." It also tended to go off on a tangent with a character's background history to the point where I thought "Huh, what's going on? Did I miss something?" I think the editor was asleep on this project too. Though I had to finish it, I thought the book dreary and uninteresting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Fscinating Man's Women

    This was an interesting read but a bit confusing..the author wrote in reverse chronology. He did not give equal time to each wife/lover. He gave a good sense of what it must have been like to live at Taliesin. There are a lot of facts used in the novel as well as the author's keen imagination. However, I found that I had to push myself to complete the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Interesting character study.

    It kept my attention and made me read more. Good job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    She likes it

    Bought it for my wife for Christmas. She is a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan. She says it gives a different perspective than "Loving Frank" which was just from the point of view of one of his wives/lovers.

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  • Posted June 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Not a very good book. It lacked a point, and I felt as if nothin

    Not a very good book. It lacked a point, and I felt as if nothing happened through the entire thing. I don't particularly care for the fact that this is a piece of fiction based on real people. The author took too much creative license, and still couldn't come up with an interesting story. You may be better off simply reading a biography of FLW.

    The biggest gripe I have over this book, is the fact that it follows Wright's relationship between four different women. While I admire the author's attempt at creating four women with four different personalities (although only one of their personalities was distinct), the story was the same between all of them. The same circumstances, the same tone, the same turn of events. It got old really fast. Only one of the women had an interesting outcome, but you don't get to that until the very end.

    Not worth the time, and this is one of the few books I regret reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2011

    Interesting portrait of a singular man

    I had no idea what a controversial life Frank Lloyd Wright led. He was a man of juxtapositions and controversy. The book belabored certain qualities of his personality, but it was interesting none the less.

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