Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shortly before I went to bed last night I finished listening to the audiobook The Women by T.C. Boyle (read by Grover Gardner; Blackstone Audio Inc). Unlike the night several months ago when I finished Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, I slept fairly peacefully. Both books are about Frank Lloyd Wright, his wives and mistresses, and his Wisconsin home, Taliesen. Thoughts of the fire and murders that took place at Taliesen are certainly very disturbing, and descriptions of that horror are placed near the end of both books.
Before reading these novels I knew only that Wright was Welsh (like my mother’s side of the family) and one of the last century’s greatest architects. He was also very impressed by the Japanese people and culture, as I am since my travels to Japan in 2005. He was also a colossal egotist who felt entitled to the things and women that pleased him. He paid for that conceit with loss of loved ones, property, acceptance by his rural neighbors, and commissions for work.
His style was flamboyant. His energy is described as buoyant, even as he aged. I have to admire him whilst I shake my head at his foolishness. Three times he took a mistress while married and cursed the press for hounding them, though he knew that he needed favorable publicity for the sake of his business. He and his women were born several years too soon. The mores of their times were too rigid for them.
The narrative Boyle used in telling the stories of Frank’s mistresses was inventive. He uses one of Wright’s young apprentices, a Japanese man, as the narrator for the tale. As such, Tadashi Sato weaves his own story into Wright’s story and becomes a sympathetic character. Tadashi obviously idolizes Wright as an architect and loves Taliesen as a home, even though it is clear that he would never emulate Wright’s behaviors.
The second intriguing aspect of this narrative is the reverse chronological order in which Boyle tells the story. I would venture to guess that he does this to build tension and suspense … from Olgivanna (the woman whose presence caused the least turmoil) to Miriam (the drug-addicted southern belle) to Mamah (who was murdered as Taliesen was burned to the ground). Initially I found the order off-putting, but since I had read Loving Frank and done some other background research on Wright, I found the re-ordering of chronology to provide added intrigue and perspective.
Last summer I drove with some friends to tour Taliesen. It is beautiful, peaceful, and so evocative of Japanese elegance. Sadly, though, it needs a wealthy benefactor who can provide funds for needed restoration and ongoing upkeep. (Hiroshi Yamauchi, Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett … are you reading this?)
Readers, if you have thought of ever visiting Taliesen I would suggest sooner rather than later.

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