The visionary, egocentric subject of this book, architect/designer Frank Lloyd Wright, changed the course of history. Whatever his faults, foibles, or eccentricities, he ushered in a new way of thinking about the way people should live with and look at the world around them. He was a control freak, certainly, but the primary focus of this novel is to show the ways in which he was influenced by the women in his life.
The narrator of this novel, by way of a third party translator, is Tadashi Sato, a young Japanese American, who, at the beginning of Part One, arrives at Wright’s Minnesota estate, Taliesin, to begin an apprenticeship with the great man. While Sato’s personal story moves forward chronologically, in a creative twist, his narrative moves backward in time, beginning with the last of Wright’s love affairs, with Montenegrin dancer Olgivanna Milanoff, who eventually became his third wife.
The tale of each preceding wife/lover is told in subsequent sections. These include his second wife, Maud Miriam Noel, a spoiled, southerner with addiction problems; mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney, whose story ends tragically; and Catherine “Kitty” Tobin, his first wife and mother to his six of his children.
Reading T.C. Boyle is always a treat. His trademark comic touches, ironic and insightful, complement the precise plotting and pace. This is by far my favorite of his historical novels, including The Road to Wellville (about John Harvey Kellogg) and The Inner Circle (about Alfred C. Kinsey).