Hendrickson has no argument with Wright’s reputation as an architect of genius, an assessment that rests on five or six buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and Fallingwater, the sublime house perched over a waterfall in Pennsylvania. What he really wants to challenge is the legend of the “strutting, self-seeking, self-centred charmer” who helped himself to other men’s money and their wives, causing heartache and misery all around, then attempting to justify it by saying he preferred “honest arrogance to hypocritical humility”. Was there a capacity for regret, sadness and shame beneath that monstrous ego?
This book is not the place to begin if you want to know more. It is egregiously over-written with silly authorial interpolations such as “Then let it be arbitrarily stipulated”, or “Another kind of swirl, the swirls of what if”. Furthermore, it is perhaps 200 pages too long, because the author persists in drowning us in pointless paragraphs and unnecessary detail about marginal characters or incidents. This is detail masquerading as depth, a common fault in certain types of American journalism.
Hendrickson was a writer for the popular Style section of the Washington Post, latterly teaching writing workshops at the University of Pennsylvania. His easy-going and conversational manner disguises impressive research in a sprawling book about a sprawling life. It is an amiable and enjoyable read if, on occasions, a little too nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Unfortunately, the lines are set to a length that makes the reading of it physically uncomfortable.