segunda-feira, 19 de agosto de 2013

An Egotistical Architect as Seen by His Women By Michiko Kakutani - a review on THE WOMEN, by T. C. Boyle



An Egotistical Architect as Seen by His Women

By Michiko Kakutani


T C Boyle

THE WOMEN,
by T. C. Boyle, 451 Pages.
Viking. $27.95.

Books of The Times



T C Boyle’s dreary new novel, “The Women,” isn’t a rewrite of Clare Boothe Luce’s wicked 1936 play “The Women.” It’s a rewrite of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright  that somehow manages to turn the gripping, operatic saga of America’s premier architect and the women in his life into a tedious, predictable melodrama.
Between his more purely fictional works, Mr. Boyle has a penchant for creating novels based on real-life figures, like the sexologist Alfred Kinsey in “The Inner Circle” (2004) and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, an inventor of cornflakes, in “The Road to Wellville” (1993). These reality-based plots inhibit the author’s exuberant storytelling gifts, tethering his imagination to facts and figures instead of letting it run gloriously free as it does in his best fiction, and they also tend to blunt his sharp-edged satire and flatten out his tactile, super-caffeinated prose.
In this case Mr. Boyle has concocted a complicated narrative structure to frame Wright’s story: the book we are reading has supposedly been written by a Japanese apprentice to Wright named Sato Tadashi, who tells the architect’s story backward in time (like the Kaufman-Hart play and Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along”) and from the points of view of the women who loved him.
Unfortunately for the reader, this inorganic, needlessly complex architecture — of the sort that Wright would utterly disdain in a building — serves no discernible purpose. Time scrolls back into the past not to reveal a more innocent or idealistic hero, but simply to underscore Wright’s perennial egotism.
Like Kinsey in “The Inner Circle,” Wright emerges in “The Women” as a cultlike figure, presiding over the lives of apprentices and followers with the arrogance of a man who regards himself as a demigod. He dimly recalls Howard Roark, the Übermensch in Ayn Rand’s  “Fountainhead” (believed by some to have been inspired by Wright), except that he’s a hypocrite who seems to care an awful lot about what other people think of him.
He also recalls the Wright depicted by Brendan Gill in his 1987 biography, “Many Masksa brilliant artist who also happened to be a lying, self-promoting con man fond of emotional brinkmanship — except that Mr. Boyle’s fictionalized architect possesses none of that man’s charm or genius.
Wright’s gifts as the creator of buildings like the Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo — the reason we are interested him in the first place — are hardly in evidence in these pages. Mr. Boyle keeps telling us that Wright is “a Wagnerian hero,” “the guiding light and enduring genius of all working architects, past, present and future.” But he never gives us a sense of this character’s vocation: how he thinks as an architect, how his passion for building informs his life, how his aesthetics evolved over time.
Mr. Boyle’s Wright is only incidentally an architect and hence comes across as a shell of character: a generically famous egotist who is arrogant and bossy and entitled, and who treats his apprentices like slaves and his wives and girlfriends as accessories. Without a vision as an artist, this Wright has no driving principle in his life, and the devotion of his followers seems less like the passion of artistic disciples than like the delusional worship of members of a cult.
As for the women in this novel, they have a lot less individuality and vitality than their real-life antecedents as depicted in Meryle Secrest’s 1992 biography, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” and in numerous newspaper and magazine articles: his imposing mother; his devoted first wife, Catherine; Mamah, a client’s artistic wife, with whom Wright absconded, only to lose her in a nightmarish tragedy (she and half a dozen others were killed by a crazed, ax-wielding servant who set fire to Taliesin, the home he had meticulously built for her); the deeply unstable Miriam, a morphine addict who called him “Lord of my Waking Dreams” and who later hounded him with lawsuits and public accusations; and Olgivanna, a dancer who helped rejuvenate his career by providing him with a stable home life.


                                                         Frank Lloyd Wright with his daughter Iovanna Gardiner and his wife, Olgivanna, 1957.

In this novel none of these women possess the emotional depth of characters from earlier Boyle novels like “Talk Talk” (2006) and “A Friend of the Earth” (2000); instead they all seem like self-dramatizing whiners or divas who unaccountably fall in love with a maniacal control freak.
They babble on about being soul mates with Wright and their centrality to his life, while Mr. Boyle’s narrator recounts their stories in cheesy, romance-novel terms: “She could see it instantly, see her power reflected in his eyes, hunger there, confusion, a gaze of pure astonishment running up and down her body like the touch of his two hands, and something else too, something deeper, primal, naked in its immediacy and need.”
Miriam, by far the most ridiculous of them, alternates between slavish adoration and demented attacks, calling Wright a ghoul for mourning Mamah and accusing him of preferring “some corpse,” a “dead thing,” to her. She theatrically threatens suicide and rages against him for not liking sweetbreads and fancy wines, and yet we’re told he thinks of her as “his star, his torch, his impetus.”
In Mr. Boyle’s early short stories such characters would have been the butt of his biting satire, uproariously mocked for their narcissism and self-delusion. But here the already extravagant lineaments of Wright’s story seem to have flummoxed the author’s imagination. Having decided to take on this Wagnerian-size life, Mr. Boyle has responded not with the deflating humor and hyperventilated energy of his early work or the emotional insight of his more recent novels but instead with a small, cheesy paint-by-numbers soap opera that manages to be pallid and gratuitously garish at the same time.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/books/27kaku.html?ref=michikokakutani
 

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