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Tom Wolfe - Page 2

post #16 of 27
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On the other hand, he has an old-style WASP puritanical streak that equates excess consumption (sometimes coupled with extramarital affairs) with impending ruin.
One more thing: excess consumption is not what brings Sherman down.  Wolfe makes clear that forces beyond Sherman's control, forces that he comes to understand much too late, are what get him.  And it's far from clear that they "bring him down" in any real or lasting sense. Sherman is a better, stronger person at the end of the book. Also, there are much richer characters in Bonfire who never get brought down: Gene Lopwitz, the Bavardages, etc.  One of the most venal characters in the book -- Abe Weiss -- gets rewarded with reelction.  Arguably the most noble character in the book -- Judge Kovitsky -- is soundly defeated in his bid for reelection.  How does this add up to a morality play? Excess consumption causes Sherman problems, but Wolfe is (again) just trying to show things as they are.  The phenomenon of people going broke on a million a year was not so uncommon in New York in the 1980s.  I'll bet that today people all over the city are going broke on more than that.  Bad habits.  There is a great, related chapter in Vanity Fair called "How to Live on Nothing a Year."  It is a perfect description of the way certain members of the British aristocracy, or pseudo-aristocracy, took advantage of honest tradesmen and landlords to manufacture an impossibly lavish lifestyle.
post #17 of 27
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I am about 1/3 of the way in, and I'm enjoying it very much. I don't think it's as good as Bonfire, but it's comparable to Man in Full. I've read all of the major reviews so far (at least 75% negative) and I think their criticism is off base. I have my own complaints, but no one else has voiced them.
Wait until you cross into the last half-third. It's only the second time I have contemplated throwing a book and the first time I was going to review a book without actually finishing it (mentioning in my review, of course, that I hadn't finished it). I am Charlotte Simmons is definately a case of Wolfe going through the motions. There is not a sympathetic character among the entire cast and his picture of campus life looks like it was crafted in 1978.
post #18 of 27
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There is not a sympathetic character among the entire cast and his picture of campus life looks like it was crafted in 1978.
I think Charlotte is sympathetic.  (I am now halfway through.)  Jojo is at least partly sympathetic, but then he will ruin it by acting like a jerk. As for campus life, I haven't lived or worked or studied on a campus in a number of years, but Wolfe's picture strikes me as mostly true, at least as it concerns student behavior, which is his main theme.  Wolfe pretends like campus politics do not exist, but that's possibly because he focused on big-time athletic schools.  Still, I suspect he got this wrong.  After all, Duke was both a national champion in basketball and the home of academic-politico swashbuckler Stanley Fish in the not so recent past.  I could go on, but won't. What's changed so much that makes you think the book is dated?
post #19 of 27
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 The only two places in New York where the white upper class and the non-white working class meet with any regularity are in the philanthropy sector and the justice system.  
Manton, I always thought that NYC was one of those cities where the rich could not insulate themselves from the poor. I thought everbody took the subways in NYC, and you could easily end up sitting to a poor imigrant from Somalia or a white analyst working on Wall Street. The island is too small and too crowded to be able to separate the poor and the rich. Compare this to SoCal where people can drive from their gated communities in their mammoth SUVs to their office. If you really wanted to, you could effectively control your contact with the non-white working poor than in NYC.
post #20 of 27
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I always thought that NYC was one of those cities where the rich could not insulate themselves from the poor. I thought everbody took the subways in NYC, and you could easily end up sitting to a poor imigrant from Somalia or a white analyst working on Wall Street. The island is too small and too crowded to be able to separate the poor and the rich.
Oh, no.  It's harder, but far from impossible.  Sherman takes a cab to work every morning, and a car service home every night. Wolfe has a telling scene which is meant as a deliberate contrast to old movies in which men pour out of buildings on Wall Street and into the subway at rush hour. Sherman comes out to go home and the street is dense with black town cars, all with numbered placards in the windshield.  Rush hour on modern Wall Street means finding your limo. Everyone I know who works in i-banking or for a big law firm gets a free car service ride home, every night, billed to a client. Not everyone gets a car on the way in, however, but the ones who don't like the subway can afford to either hire their own car, or take a cab. And, in any case, sitting next to someone on the subway for 10 minutes is not exactly real interaction.  Once above ground, everyone heads for their separate enclaves of the city.
post #21 of 27
Very interesting and informative response. Well worth reading. Thanks, Manton.
post #22 of 27
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What's changed so much that makes you think the book is dated?
Well, for one thing there is no student outside of the Millennium Mutants and Charlotte that is even remotely interested in their academic life. I suppose you could argue that Vance Phipps and his late nights at the library are a counterexample but outside of he and Adam no main character seems to even go to class. I'm only eight years removed from my university days but nearly everyone I knew -- and it was a wide cross section of people -- was always studying. Were they drinking and having sex? Sure, but not to the bacchanalian excess that they were at Dupont University. According to Wolfe there are only three groups of people on campus: elite athletes, geeks and frat boys/sorority girls. Athletes and geeks hate each other, frat boys hate everyone and sorority girls/wannabes lust after athletes and frat boys. Again, from my days in university, there was an incredible number of communities and many of them mixed easily. He does address campus politics later on (somewhat) and I'll admit that he did that effectively. I knew my share of graying 60s boomers in the faculty who thought the revolution was just around the corner. God knows there were enough idiot radicals running around looking for a cause du jour. As for Charlotte being sympathetic? Only if you find it remotely plausible that she has never watched television (and her family does indeed own one), talked to another human being or read a magazine would she be shocked at campus life today. Her mental breakdown after having sex was so overblown that my head hurt from the sledgehammer Wolfe was using to make his point. And that's what the whole point of IaCS was...Wolfe's disapproval of the sexualization and dumbing down of society and school. Problem is the novel was so overboard that he isn't credible. This thread is going to get moved to another category very soon :-)
post #23 of 27
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Well, for one thing there is no student outside of the Millennium Mutants and Charlotte that is even remotely interested in their academic life. I suppose you could argue that Vance Phipps and his late nights at the library are a counterexample but outside of he and Adam no main character seems to even go to class. I'm only eight years removed from my university days but nearly everyone I knew -- and it was a wide cross section of people -- was always studying.
This is a good point.  I remember reading a piece in The Atlantic a few years ago called "The Organization Kid" about hyper-ambitious strivers on top campuses.  It does seem implausible that life at a supposedly tippy-top university like Dupont would be almost 100% bacchanalia.
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As for Charlotte being sympathetic? Only if you find it remotely plausible that she has never watched television (and her family does indeed own one), talked to another human being or read a magazine would she be shocked at campus life today.
I guess I have met enough really sheltered kids that this did strain credulity to me.
post #24 of 27
I'm still in academia, regular interact with students, both graduate and undergraduate, and pass for even that latter occasionally, and I find Wolfe's academia entirely unrealistic. Yes, students are having sex and some don't go to class, but the majority do. In fact, if anything, my observations are the reverse of Wolfe's. More and more students (from mid tier to top tier universities at any level) are becoming more and more stressed about their studies, what careers are available to them after graduation. I agree that college campuses are getting dumbed down, but I attribute this more to the corporatization of college than anything else. Everything is about getting a job afterwards, of making good grades so that you can actually be competitive for increasingly sparse good jobs, instead of about studying something either out of real interest in subject, or just to get a good liberal arts education. Class loads increase to make students more "competitive" and leave less and less free time. I know students who, on a six class workload, literally barely have enough time to sleep. And these are not just the A types, who are stressed as a matter of course.
post #25 of 27
Manton, solid stuff on Bonfire. I enjoyed A Man in Full, and agree with the poster who said it's been underrated - though I admit my boardroom experience is limited, and I take everything Wolfe says to be potentially true. That leads to my criticism of the new book; he usually gets the atmosphere so right, and in IaCS, I don't think he gets it at all. From what I've read, I agree that it's Wolfe at his most puritanical. After displaying his disgust with American youth in "Hooking Up," he explores the topic further. What really turns me off is Wolfe's usual touch with nuance and his cultural savvy seem absent. He really seems out of touch - I can imagine why, it's a culture from which he's far removed. I attended a tiny private liberal arts school, and there was such a diversity of types of people, even in a student body of 1250. I know Wolfe has to condense generalizations into characters and classify in the name of brevity (right? ) - but his usual creation or manipulation of type seems too obvious and too close to widely held stereotypes to be anything but bald condemnation. Not that students don't classify each other and try to fit classifications themselves. Yeah, college can be a bad place and people there do awful things and subject each other to ripping pressure in addition to the push and pull of academic life, and this is a topic that hasn't been touched on much, or explored adequately, at least in fiction. But either Mr. Wolfe's journalistic skills failed him, or his subjects did, because he doesn't get the look or the talk as spot-on as he usually does. The book and the author are out of touch, IMHO. As for his clothing, I enjoy his idiosyncracy, but think his style is sort of at odds with his function, FWIW.
post #26 of 27
If last week's NY Observer is any indication , either Mr. Wolfe has lost a serious amount of weight or Mr. Kabbaz makes his collars a few sizes too large.
post #27 of 27
A note of warning: I'm only about mid-way through the novel.  However, I do currently attend a southern university, though not prestigious as Wolfe's in IaCS. Wolfe--as he has in past novels--gets a lot of details brilliantly correct, but he's not without a few glaring social errors.  His details did impress me, beginning with Charlotte's first hall meeting. As a Resident Assistant, I was surprised, pleasantly, to see how accurate his depiction was. Since reading the scene I've spoken to a few RA's who read the excerpt in Rolling Stone.  More than just tickling us because the novel includes an RA, we were impressed by the RA's depiction. Yes, she cares about her residents, but she's not losing sleep over them either.  Socially, his categorization of groups would be more appropriate in a high school setting rather than on a university. Disdain among social groups is much more prevalent among mid-teens than on college campuses. In my experience, a university's "Geeks," "Greeks," "Jocks," etc., though sometimes split into groups, easily manage to co-exist. If the groups do interact it's generally in a positive manner. As with Charlotte, residents are often paired with roommates who are from entirely different backgrounds--which causes bridges among those separate social groups. Classes force students to bridge those groups as well. It's really not unusual to see a "prep" with a group that's "hip-hop" or a student that is into, say, the Libertines, studying with a frat.  I was particularly interested, and dismayed, in Charlotte's character. Gorgekko mentioned out of touch she is made out to be, and I agree. Though I've met students who have never been out of state before, they've all seen a little cable television, and none are overly shocked at the actions of their peers. If Charlotte had seen one episode of Jackass little of this would have been a surprise to her.
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