T.C. Boyle's latest novel is a wild and improvisational examination of Frank Lloyd Wright and the women he loved.
The word fugue has two meanings. It can signify a musical composition whose swirling variations on a theme create a whole more complex than its parts. Or it can refer to a pathological, stressful psychological state.
Published a year and a half after Nancy Horan’s “Loving Frank,” a well-researched but less animated reimagining of Wright’s affair with proto-feminist Mamah Borthwick Cheney, Boyle’s novel is both more ambitious and better written.
Like the Horan novel, “The Women” creates an unflattering view of Wright as a man consumed by ambition, vanity, and spectacularly undisciplined hormones.
But it also rounds him out, as it does the women in his life. These include Cheney, who was his longtime mistress, and his three wives: the underdrawn Kitty Tobin, the exotic Montenegrin Olgivanna Milanoff, and the exuberantly presented Maude Miriam Noel, a lapsed Southern belle who matched Wright in relentlessness and exceeded him in cruelty.