Aug. 30th, 2015


Aug. 30th, 2015 02:50 pm
decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
The Women by T.C. Boyle: Ugh. What a disappointment. I read Boyle's short fiction relatively regularly, but it occurred to me while reading this book that I haven't picked up a novel of his in years. Perhaps he is just better as a short story writer, when the exigencies of the form force him to be concise. The Women, on the other hand, is wordy: endlessly, impossibly, maddeningly wordy. Right from the beginning I was annoyed by the verbosity. There are details crammed into every nook and cranny of the story, adjectives piled on all available surfaces, descriptions draped thickly over everything. Scenes that might have been affecting or tense or beautiful at three pages, swelled and sagged over seven or ten pages. I couldn't figure out whether Boyle's style had changed since those earlier novels I read years ago, or whether the problem was that, over the past five or ten years, my own taste has been steadily evolving away from this maximalist approach.

So the wordiness of the book was off-putting, and Boyle's decisions about narration and chronology were baffling. The book tells the story of the complicated and controversial love life of brilliant architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Boyle presents the story in reverse chronological order, beginning with Wright's third wife and moving backward through various other marriages and affairs. I can imagine a situation in which this strategy could work, but here it just seems to separate events from their consequences and prevent the work from developing much emotional depth. Not only that, but Boyle makes the bizarre decision to present the work as though it were written by a fictional apprentice of Wright's who (according to the novel!!) did not even meet Wright until long after the events he is ostensibly narrating. What purpose could this possibly serve? How does it make any sense? Why on earth not just tell the story???

I might have put this book down if not for the fact that it was loaned to me by my father (after we toured Wright's home in Oak Park together in July), and for the past few years I have not had a very good record of reading and returning his books in a timely fashion. So I forged ahead and finished it, and then got mad at it for taking up all of my reading time while I was at Stony Lake. Ha! I was quite disappointed to have this frustrating book turn out to be the only thing I managed to read while I was there, and I'm sure that didn't improve my opinion of the book.

Mostly, The Women just seemed like one long missed opportunity. There is plenty of dramatic meat in this story, but Boyle does not seem to have done the imaginative work necessary to make it compelling. Wright's wives come on stage and leave in succession, as though the same actress were going through various costume changes--each of them responds to Wright in the same predetermined set of ways and they never seem like fully-realized individuals. I wish Boyle would have dug more deeply into their characters, or even into the character of Frank Lloyd Wright. Instead of a long recitation of scenes gleaned from Wright's life history, how much more powerful might this book have been if it wrestled with the question of why Wright's life took the path it did.
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