cover image Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright

Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright

Paul Hendrickson. Knopf, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-385-35365-6

Conflagrations physical and emotional illuminate America’s greatest architect in this melodramatic biography. National Book Critics Circle Award winner Hendrickson (Hemingway’s Boat) tries to humanize the famously arrogant Frank Lloyd Wright by focusing on episodes of trauma and regret. Centering the book is the 1914 murders by hatchet of Wright’s lover and six others by Julian Carlton, a mentally ill servant, at Wright’s Taliesin house, which Carlton burned. Hendrickson’s lurid, repetitive account details the carnage and Wright’s distraught reaction, delves into Carlton’s enslaved forebears, and lurches forward to the 1921 Tulsa race riot, which Wright’s cousin stoked with inflammatory newspaper articles; Hendrickson frames it all as a vaguely connected thread of racial tragedy. The haphazard narrative also explores Wright’s stormy relationship with his second wife, his possibly homosexual relationship with another architect, his misrepresentation of his parents’ marital troubles, and violent deaths among owners of Wright-designed houses. Hendrickson’s novelistic treatment—“Mother-fueled, father-ghosted, here [Wright] comes now, 19 years old, almost 20, out of the long grasses of the Wisconsin prairie”—meticulously researches facts but wildly overinterprets them; he is forever reading subtext into stray remarks and scanning family photographs for signs of inner psychology. His appreciations of Wright’s architecture are insightful and evocative, but readers seeking a systematic, judicious Wright bio should look elsewhere. [em](Oct.) [/em]