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bonfire of the vanities - Page 3

post #31 of 84
In the words of the immor(t)al Mark McGwire: "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."
post #32 of 84
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Wolfe spent some time on the Salomon Brothers trading floor researching his book. I recognized several people in the book. As a former bond trader from South Georgia, I think Bonfire and Man in Full were his best works
I think another great book of that era is Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker. I have not read BOV, just watched the movie. I thought the first 5 minutes with Bruce Willis were great, then not so much. I did think the portrayl of the South Bronx was hiliarious, it was so ludicrously over-the-top, not to mention Morgan Freeman's skullcap... A.
Went through the Solly training program and Lewis nailed it with that one.
post #33 of 84
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(tgfny @ April 10 2005,16:59) Wolfe spent some time on the Salomon Brothers trading floor researching his book. I recognized several people in the book. As a former bond trader from South Georgia, I think Bonfire and Man in Full were his best works
Did you also play basketball at a fictional Ivy League university?  If so, I think Tom Wolfe might be stalking you.
Nah, I played at Vanderbilt. Think I have a have a case against him?
post #34 of 84
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Part of my problem with BOV is that it just seems outdated when I read it today. You read the passages about the white fear of crime, and its hard to comprehend with my image of an increasingly gentrified NYC.
Hmm, the images I have of New York in the early to mid-1980s was Bernie Goetz, the Guardian Angels, Tawana Brawley, increasing racial tensions, crime rates exploding and a city that clearly was tottering on the edge of fiscal and social disaster. When I read the book it certainly resonated for me -- at least based on the diet of media images that a young teenager consumed from his safe perch in northern Ontario :-) I don't think people remember how much of a &#*.hole New York was considered just 20 short years ago.
post #35 of 84
New York City is a truly marvellous place, and I will surely miss the city when the day comes for me to leave her. But it remains an extremely stratified city, not only culturally (which is wonderful) but socioeconomically. People around the East 70s and Fifth look, talk, and act differently from people just a few avenues east (which is still a pretty good neighbourhood). One bedrooms cost about $1m more once you are cross the "invisible" border that divides the "seriously wealthy" Upper East Side from the remainder of the Upper East Side i.e. east of Park Ave. Isn't it so peculiar that in a city as compact and diverse as New York, the invisible barriers and signs of social class are even more amplified in some ways? But perhaps things will slowly change. A colleague of mine at work is contemplating purchasing a 3 bedroom apartment in a new residential development in East Harlem for $350k. I would not live there eventhough it would save me a lot of money, as I like the Upper East Side too much.
post #36 of 84
Thread Starter 
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2) Wolfe makes clear that Sherman "stole" the phrase "Master of the Universe" from the toys that were based on the cartoon. 3) The Fallow phenomenon -- sponging Brits (especially journalists) taking advantage of Americans' sense of awe upon hearing an upper-class English accent -- was very real in the New York of the 1980s.  (Apologies to our British members.)  
I believe that the cartoon was based on the toys. During that period, the FCC lifted a ban that prevented cartoons from basically serve as infomercials to promote a line of toys- He-Man, Transformers, etc... Would Americans really be able to recognize a upper-class English accent? I'm sure the English could, but I know I wouldn't be able to. If crime was truly that scary and this was in the era of Bernie Goetz, shouldn't McCoy have become a popular vigilante figure in the book? Didn't white new yorkers support Bernie Goetz's action on the subway? Does anybody know whom all the characters were based on? Obviously, the New Light is based on the NY Post. Was McCoy based on anybody? Did Rudy Gullani serve as an inspiration to the prosecutor? I think that NYC is truly a wonderful place to live for those who have the money. NYC might be the city that never sleeps for those for live in Manhattan, but not those outside looking in in when you live in Queens. You really can't join the party.
post #37 of 84
On He-Man: I stand corrected. On English accents: I can tell.  I think the kind of East Siders that Wolfe depicts as entranced by the sound could easily tell too. On the characters: As a general rule, few of the major characters are "based" on anyone, but are at most composites.  Tommy Killian is the most conspicuous exception.  Judge Kovitsky is also to some extent based on a real judge (Burt Roberts).  Sherman is not based on anyone.  Neither Larry Kramer nor Abe Weiss is supposed to be Giuliani.  Too many fundamental differences.  Some of the minor characters -- people mentioned only a handful of times, who have little if any dialolgue -- are clearly meant to be stand-ins for real people. The City Light is not necessarily the Post, which is after all right of center and has been since the 70s, whereas the City Light under Sir Gerald Steiner is clearly a liberal paper. Goetz was not a "hero" to whites.  He was a hero to at most a very small number of people.  I think polling at the time showed that a lot of people thought crime was out of control, and felt that the city government had given up trying to rein it in, but most did not believe Goetz was justified in shooting a fleeing kid in the back.
post #38 of 84
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The strange thing is that I liked Man in Full much more than Bonfire of Vanities. Maybe my expectations were too high. Part of my problem with BOV is that it just seems outdated when I read it today. You read the passages about the white fear of crime, and its hard to comprehend with my image of an increasingly gentrified NYC. Its like reading Morris' biography of Reagan, especially when it talked about Reagan's stewardship during the 80s . It just seems so inconsequential with the passage of time. I don't think Wolfe does a good job of capturing the different characters or their enviornments, especially when he leaves Park Avenue. It all seemed shallow, and full of caricatures. Rev. Bacon is supposed to be Al Sharpton, right? I found Sherman McCoy to be weak and uninteresting, not somebody I would want to read about. His hubris of lust just doesn't make him a dynamic character enough for me. Am I supposed to symphathize with him, or cheer his downfall?
I think some of Wolfe's writing is okay, but usually mediocre, which is not bad, considering how much junk gets published. BOV, which I read when it came out, so it's been a while, is one of his better works. In some ways many of the characters are composites. I thought McCoy's self-awareness & growth was evident. I think you're supposed to see the utter horror of the characters' vacuity, lust and greed. Not only McCoy but attorneys on both sides, his wife, his girlfriend, the newspaper reporter, the judge. A pox on all their houses then. Perhaps Wolfe displays some regard for McCoy's father (the "Lion" as I recall) and his generation. Nice contrast between the Old Boys and the McCoys, as it were. The Old Boys club wasn't one of virtue, but it was one of restraint.
post #39 of 84
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Wolfe got a Ph.D. at Yale in the 50s in "American Studies," which required that he read (among other things) a lot of American fiction from the first half of the 20th century, which was primarily "realistic" in character.  (Not that he wouldn't have anyway, for all we know; just that it helps explain the literature that in some respects formed his mind.)  At this time, there was a lot of talk at the upper reaches of acadamia about the "death of the novel."  Lionel Trilling, who dominated the literature discussision in a way that is hard for us to imagine (much more than, say, Stanley Fish ever did), proclaimed at one point that the life-blood of the novel was the old (pre 20th century), primarily European class structure, and that its erosion meant the end of the novel. Wolfe chose not to go into academia but to be a reporter.  As such, he was writing mostly about hard facts.  Later, he excelled as a "feature" writer: "soft", long-format stories about personalities, trends, etc.  This experience convinced him that Trilling and others were wrong: the old class structure may have been gone, but human nature being what it is, it had been replaced, almost seamlessly, with the somewhat more elastic but no-less-real concept of "status."  People still organized themselves, either conciously or subconciously, into hierarchies, but not according to birth and wealth strictly, but according to a whole range of complex factors. Wolfe has said that one of the most misunderstood yet brilliant devices of Balzac was to go on at such length about furniture.  This drove some of his critics nuts; they argued that it was proof of Balzac's superficiality.  Wolfe counters: not so; it is Balzac's way of showing where his characters fit into the class and status structure of the society of his time.  And, more importantly, where they themselves thought they fit. Clothes are to Wolfe's novels what furniture is to Balzac's.  Shoes especially.  One reviewer of Bonfire (I can't remember who it was) was so turned off by this aspect of the book that he dismissed it as a "catalogue of shoes." As to why he mentions this or that specific brand, I can only guess.  He does mention Lobb in some of his non-fiction writing from the 70s.  I suppose he may have used N&L to give a plug to George Cleverley, who was at the time his shoemaker.  I suspect is was more that Lobb was an iconic brand, and very well-known, and he wanted to show that Sherman was obsessive enough to be discerning enough to seek out and find a slightly less-known (and arguably better) shoemaker.  I agree with the notion that Huntsman was selected because it makes a sharp silhouette.  At one point, when Wolfe is writing one of Sherman's frequent internal monologues, he hints that Sherman would have liked to wear double-breasted, but didn't feel he could get away with it on Wall Street (a sly, early indication of Sherman's conformity and lack of courage).  So perhaps the severity of the Huntsman silhouette was as far as he thought he could go.  It's notable, too, I think that Sherman always wears nailhead. Other random points: 1) Bacon is not Sharpton.  The Bacon character was conceived and written for the Rolling Stone serialization of the book long before the rise of Sharpton.  Wolfe in a sense predicted Sharpton and his success. 2) Wolfe makes clear that Sherman "stole" the phrase "Master of the Universe" from the toys that were based on the cartoon. 3) The Fallow phenomenon -- sponging Brits (especially journalists) taking advantage of Americans' sense of awe upon hearing an upper-class English accent -- was very real in the New York of the 1980s.  (Apologies to our British members.)  A lot of people assumed that Fallow was based on a real person, and there were at least a dozen theories as to who he was supposed to be.  Personally, I don't think Fallow was a roman à clef character.  But Nick Stopping is clearly supposed to be Alexander Cockburn. 4) As to crime and the 80s, well, I guess you had to be there.  Certainly, the 6 train these days is not much of a problem.  But for a little taste of "Old New York", crawl down onto the 8th Avenue line at 2 am.  It's ... a little different.
Excellent post, Manton. I just wanted to add something to your opening comments. As you know, Saul Bellow just died. I love the fact that Bellow published Augie March right after the calls about the "Death of the American Novel". He then went onto write several more excellent works. If we really want to be serious, then I think we should admit that Wolfe, held up to many of his contemporary novelists, doesn't make the grade. But he's a very fine occasional journalist, and he's written a few truly great pieces. For a different take on Wolfe, one might see last issue of the Harvard Advocate. There's a small anecdote in one of the stories about Wolfe's reception of a Paris Review intern that had Plimpton aghast. Actually, come to think of it, I can't think of it, I can't think of two people less similiar in values (including dress -- superficial "value" though it is") than Plimpton and Wolfe.
post #40 of 84
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Anyone else suspect Manton of being Wolfe? Ha ha, we know he really isn't.
Hmm....
post #41 of 84
Comparing me to Wolfe is just about the greatest compliment anyone could possibly pay me. I am not Wolfe. I can only dream of writing that well.
post #42 of 84
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Comparing me to Wolfe is just about the greatest compliment anyone could possibly pay me. I am not Wolfe. I can only dream of writing that well.
The Title for Wolfe's next book on the heels of I am Charlotte Simmons... "I Am Not Wolfe" But Manton...I think that the comparison of you to Wolfe is in your respective fields... Awww....
post #43 of 84
Speaking of Charlotte Simmons, which of course deviates from the original topic though it keeps the focus on the author, there's a description of a college basketball game at the end of the book and Wolfe describes the male cheerleaders "twirling their whirling girls" through the air. That's a lovely turn of phrase, to my eye/ear anyway. There is probably some technical term for the kind of literary device that's being used (sort of a visual analogue of onomatopoeia) but I'm at a loss to think of what it might be. Any of you literary sophisticates out there have an insight?
post #44 of 84
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. . . Wolfe describes the male cheerleaders "twirling their whirling girls" through the air.  That's a lovely turn of phrase, to my eye/ear anyway.  There is probably some technical term for the kind of literary device that's being used (sort of a visual analogue of onomatopoeia) but I'm at a loss to think of what it might be.  Any of you literary sophisticates out there have an insight?
How about a form of alliteration?
post #45 of 84
It's called assonance. edit: Although it seems to also include a little bit of consonance as well.
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