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Bestseller
Tom Wolfe: A Man in Full
Tom Wolfe: The Bonfire of the Vanities

N° zero, October 25/November 30, 1999

The Bonfire of the Vanities
was Tom Wolfe's first novel. It was considered the ultimate book about the eighties, New York City, Wall Street and its golden boys. Tom Wolfe, a former journalist for Esquire, The Washington Post or the Rolling Stone magazine, painted a dark picture of the American society. Sherman McCoy, an immoral investment banker, only cares about making money, sex and appearances. He lives in a system of sleazy layers, corrupt cops and media. But in the end lies his downfall and - in an epilogue - his metamorphosis. Tom Wolfe described everything in remarquable detail. The journalist had done a fine job. But was he a novelist? Didn't he remain to much on the surface and descriptive level? Or was this simply the essential property of the society he was writing about?
 
A year ago, ten years after his first came his second bestseller: A Man in Full. This time the action takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. A lot of different characters - some of them somewhat stereotype - come to life in a new, modern American South. Again, Tom Wolfe attempts to capture the American society as a whole. There is Charlie Croker, an aging selfmademan and tycoon of the real estate business. He is on the brink of ruin. He owes his creditors half a billion dollars. As a former footballstar, he is suffering in a special way from a bad knee. Charlie Croker as a man and macho is in doubt about himself. He also has doubts about his young wife. These are again the ingredients of The Bonfire of the Vanities. This time they are tied to a political plot: the black Mayor of Atlanta tries to promote his own re-election. A black laywer, Roger Too White, is also involved. All this could lead to racial unrest because Fareek Fanon, a black football star, is suspected of raping the daughter of a wealthy white businessman. There is also Conrad Hensley, a married man, 23, earnest, working in a warehouse and cold-storage depot in California. His boss is Charlie Croker. For the above mentioned financial reasons, he gets laid off, ends up in prison, finds strenght in stoicism and - due to a typical californian event - finds his way into liberty. There is also Ray Peepgass, a middle management employee in the bank Croker is mostly indepted to. He has high hopes of fast money and, at the same time, some problem with his love life.
 
Tom Wolfe's portrayal of the customs and manners is  - as in The Bonfire of the Vanities -  a description of the different classes and circles with social realism. As he once pointed out, he thinks that one can portray society as a whole in one novel. Critics like Norman Mailer (in The New York Review of Books) point out that again Wolfe wasn't capable of creating a credible woman figur in his novel. The description of relations between the sexes is not his strong point. John Updike writes in the New Yorker of a book with tiring descriptions. Each one taken on its own is as good as the first one, but as Engels once said, quantity changes quality. All this may be true. Tom Wolfe tries probably too hard to catch what he considers the Zeitgeist, the spirit of our times. The USA in the nineties as a corrupt and chaotic, random place. But in the end, didn't Fitzgerald create The Great Gatsby that way?




Tom Wolfe: A Man in Full. Hardcover, Farrar Straus Giroux, November 1998, 727 pages. Get it from Amazon.com.
 

Tom Wolfe: The Bonfire of the Vanities. Paperbook, Bantam Books, 1988, 690 pages. Get it from Amazon.com.


Tom Wolfe: I am Charlotte Simmons. November 2004, 688 p. Get it from Amazon.com. German edition: Ich bin Charlotte Simmons. September 2005, Blessing Verlag, 800 S. Roman bestellen bei Amazon.de.

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