T.C. Boyle's Frank Lloyd Wright Obsession Is More Novel Than We Thought

T.C. Boyle's Frank Lloyd Wright Obsession Is More Novel Than We Thought

T.C. Boyle and his wife Karen in their Wright place. Photo: LAT

We were already anxious to get the word on T.C. Boyle‘s new book The Women since it’s all about the sexploits of that infamous philanderer Frank Lloyd Wright. (The women the title is named for would be Kitty, Mamah, Miriam and Olgivanna, in that order.) But little did we know the origins of Boyle’s influence when it came to writing this novel in the first place…his muse, if you will. Boyle and his family actually live in the first Wright-designed house built in California!

The two-story living room. Photo: LAT

According to a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, Boyle lives in the 1910 George C. Stewart house, the only Prairie style house on the West Coast, located in Montecito. In 1993 his wife Karen called him in tears, begging him to buy the house, which was a steal at only $2 million. At first, Boyle was unimpressed. After all, according to the article, the house had some design issues:

First, there’s the floor plan. Laid out on a cruciform pattern with the fireplace at the center — the living room flanked by the dining room and parlor — there are no interior walls. Upstairs, the shape is slightly condensed; the bedrooms and baths are small, and there’s hardly any closet space. (Wright disdained rooms where you closed your eyes to sleep or stored things you didn’t need.)

Second, there is a certain tension — a purposeful discomfort — built into the design. To begin with, you can’t see the front door, and when you get there, you’re standing beneath an overhang that — with a 6-foot, 5-inch clearance — is more of a cave than an entry. Then you step inside, and the space is no better. Wright breaks the tension gloriously with an adjacent two-story ceiling, but for some people that might not be enough. And if you’re looking for a grand staircase, a garage or a family room per se, forget it.

But after meticulously restoring the house, Boyle came to love the place, calling it, affectionately, his “treehouse.” The couple even raised their three children amongst the Stickley furniture.

Would Frank have approved of this behavior? Photo: LAT

As for the book, early reviews wonder if the parallels between Boyle and his subject might have made him overly sympathetic:  One reviewer asks if Boyle’s residential bias might make him “see the architect as something of a hero, even a kindred spirit?” As for Wright, he never seemed to care much about this particular house; he sent along the plans without viewing the site and never visited the finished product until 50 years later, just before his death.

All photos by Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times.