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Interview: T. C. Boyle

On The Women and Frank Lloyd Wright
By CASSANDRA LANDRY  |  February 3, 2009


Among his many fictionalizations of the American past, novelist T.C. Boyle has remade such real-life characters as the inventor of cornflakes, John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville, 1993), and sexual behaviorist Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle, 2004). Now with The Women (Viking), he has awakened another dysfunctional genius, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, telling the story of Wright's passionate and scandalous private life from the point of view of his four wives. The University of Southern California professor talked with me from his home in the Wright-designed George C. Stewart House near Santa Barbara.

Obvious question: Why Frank Lloyd Wright?
I've written about the great egomaniacs of the 20th century before, and Frank Lloyd Wright just falls right in with these guys. That is, he is a narcissist who believes that everyone in the world exists only to serve his needs. I had been thinking about writing about him for some time, especially since 16 years ago we moved into the George C. Stewart House, his first California house, which was built in 1909. I had been totally intrigued by his crazy life — which is so unlike mine — and it was just finally time to write it.

How's the house holding up in time for the centennial?
House is in great shape. Now that I've said that, it'll probably burn down. It almost burned down in the fire about a month ago. That was horrifying.

Fires seem to follow Wright, don't they? His famous dwelling in Wisconsin, Taliesin, suffered multiple fires and destruction throughout his life.
Yeah that's right. Jesus. This house is made of redwood, and it's a prairie-style house, which he loved to do. When we moved in, the house was listing to the east because it doesn't have any foundations. It was built on piers, which he likes to do. It's amazing, you look at the redwood today and it looks most likely like what it looked like when it was built. Wright's æsthetic is to use natural materials and let nature be part of the construction, and so it weathers and has different colorations and stuff, but I think that would have been his intention. But basically it just exists. Which is pretty good.

Which of the women's perspectives in the novel did you find most difficult to write?
That would probably be Kitty [Wright's first wife], because she was a victim. The thing that would be hard for us to fathom today, when we have had female liberation, is how after all that had been done to her she still stood up for her husband, even after he had left her and run off to Europe with Mamah [Wright's second wife]. But the light of the book for me is Miriam [Wright's third wife], because of her extreme behavior. Her absolutely irrational, crazy behavior. She was a blast to write.

Many people recognize the name Frank Lloyd Wright, but not many realize the hardship and scandal he went through in his life. Do you think this might change people's perspective of him?
He is such a cult figure, and so many people have such an individual take on him and possess him as their own. Of course, I'm writing fiction, and it's accurate as far as I can tell. I'm not an expert, and I hope that people will appreciate it as a work of art and as a novel that illuminates his architecture and also his personality. And you know, it's not simply about him. Everything works around him, of course, but I think he's sort of secondary to the others.

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  •   INTERVIEW: T. C. BOYLE  |  February 03, 2009
    Among his many fictionalizations of the American past, novelist T.C. Boyle has remade such real-life characters as the inventor of cornflakes, John Harvey Kellogg ( The Road to Wellville , 1993), and sexual behaviorist Alfred Kinsey ( The Inner Circle , 2004).
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