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The Women    by T. C. Boyle order for
by T. C. Boyle
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Here is good news about the latest offering from T. C. Boyle, one of America's most innovative novelists. Boyle has consistently distinguished himself as a master of both the short story and the novel (an accomplishment rarely achieved by even the best of writers throughout literary history), and now he once again dazzles readers with a singular portrait of early twentieth century American culture and society. This time, though, in The Women, the portrait is presented through Boyle's highly recommended fictional biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and the women involved in Wright's complicated and scandalous life.

When The Women opens, readers are introduced to Sato Tadashi, a fledgling architect from Japan who is about to begin a decade under the peculiar mentoring of the American master, Frank Lloyd Wright. Through an audacious metafictional flourish and a brilliantly reversed chronology, Tadashi alternates between being narrator and author of Boyle's novel, which becomes a literary prism through which readers are challenged to understand Wright's character and his relationships.

At times, through his relationships with four different women (or five if you shrewdly include his mother), Wright appears as the wounded genius, the heroic innovator, and the enthusiastic admirer of women. Then, often abruptly, Wright is instead the adulterous philanderer, the sociopathic and egocentric abuser of others (especially women), the tight-fisted penny-pincher, the inconsiderate tyrant, the oblivious hypocrite, and the fugitive from justice.

Throughout Boyle's cleverly crafted novel, however, and beyond the provocative portrait of Wright, Boyle gives readers ample time to consider the women in Wright's life: the long-suffering Catherine 'Kitty' Tobin (Wright's first wife and mother of six of his children); the mistress Mamah Borthwick (a woman with God-given grace and charm whose seductive powers over Wright would be cut short tragically by violence); the passionate Maud Miriam Noel (the southern belle who would become the second Mrs. Wright and - because of her husband's callous insensitivity - she would justifiably change into the vengeful, disturbed dilettante); and the beautiful Olgivanna Milanoff (an intriguing - perhaps opportunistic - woman from Montenegro who would become Wright's third and final wife).

As a dazzling tale of passions, conflicts, and consequences, The Women - quite possible T. C. Boyle's best work - will certainly entertain readers. More particularly, though, here is a prediction: Look for The Women to receive plenty of well-deserved attention when the critics give out the awards in 2009.

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