T.C. Boyle

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, Alfred Kinsey, Frank Lloyd Wright—what do these men have in common? Domineering, sexually forthright alpha males at the center of cultish circles, scoffing at middle-class morality, determined to live by their own peculiar philosophies of personal freedom. Yes, that. And also all the heroes of books by T.C. Boyle. In his very entertaining new novel, The Women (Penguin, $27.95), the reckless, profligate, tabloid story of architect Wright is framed—in reverse order—by the four great loves of his long life (1867-1959). Each woman mightily resents the other; none can be sure of Wright’s real affection; and he to them—and the reader, too—remains aloof and unknowable. Boyle puts us into their heads, not his design design studio. (The novel stops well short of the Guggenheim or Fallingwater.) And in the tale’s watchful margins, footnoting frequently, lurks a Japanese apprentice of the master who loves him no less than the four women, but is less blind to his mentor’s selfishness and faults. Wright asks himself, “How did they expect him to live, these moral paragons trapped in their own miserable little lives and marriages as dead and loveless as the rugs on the floors of the insipid boxes they called home?” Unfortunately, as his lovers discover, they’re as replaceable as those same rugs. BRIAN MILLER

Wed., Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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