bonfire of the vanities

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by esquire., Apr 10, 2005.

  1. Aaron

    Aaron Senior member

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    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.
     


  2. modsquad

    modsquad Senior member

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    In my opinion, Bonfire of the Vamities was a quintissential book and an amazing read but not really a good novel. It summed up a period in a way that everyone wanted to understand it and contributed several words and phrases to the language. The characters, though, are cardboard. But it is THE zeitgeist novel.

    As for Wolfe combing SF for research, Ed Hayes, for whom Tommy Killian is the sfictional surrogate, posts on London Lounge under his real name. He was spotted immediately. He was the lawyer for one side in the Andy Warhol probate battle, among other things and has a couple of rather more problematic clients right now, if you read the New York papers.
     


  3. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

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    I think that BOV would have resonated with me more if I had lived in NYC during that period. However, I didn't and I have no problems with taking the 6 train at 2 or 3 in the morning.

    As materialistic Sherman is with his apartment and toys, I don't know if he would have worn Huntsman because it was more gaudy than AS. Maybe he's lying to himself, but he blames his wife for all the materialism in their lives. Even before all his financial trobules, he's already worrying about the cost of the apartment and the interest on the loan.

    Were new yorkers that enthralled with the british in the 80s where fallon can always get americans to pick up his tab?

    Did Wolfe really introduce the phrase 'master of the universe'? I think the He-Man cartoons came out first, before the novel.

    I think that its a good point somebody brought up 'Liar's Poker'. Not that Liar's Poker is the great american novel, but it does a much superior job in capturing that milieu on wall street. I'm skimming both books right now, and BOV is missing all these touches and insight in LP.

    Sherman is a bond salesman, yet why does Wolfe give credit to LBJ for the rise of bonds in the 80s? It was due more to Volcker's decision in 79. There's no real sense of the frat boy culture. Even the term 'master of the universe' is misleading, wheras Big Swinging Dick is a better reflection of the culture at that time. It would have been a nice touch to have had a character based on Lewis Raneri, who only had 4 polyster suits.
     


  4. johnw86

    johnw86 Senior member

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    Truly enjoyed the book. Thought the movie was one of the worst ever made (largely the fault of miscasting--Melanie Griffith? and changing the Brit tabloid writer to an American, played by Bruce Willis? Funny how those casting moves, meant to ensure success, ruined the movie).

    According to Julie Salomon who wrote a book about the making of the BOV movie, they had New & Lingwood shoes made for Hanks so that he would be able to feel the same comfort that Sherman enjoyed in the book...I'm not sure what that says about the filmmakers' confidence in Mr. Hanks' acting abilities.
     


  5. Manton

    Manton RINO Dubiously Honored

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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.
     


  6. montecristo#4

    montecristo#4 Senior member

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    The best part of the movie was that it featured the trading floor of Merrill Lynch on Vesey St. where I used to work. Anyone else suspect Manton of being Wolfe? Ha ha, we know he really isn't. [​IMG] Personally (no offense to Wolfe/Manton) I find American Psycho does a better job of caricaturing that time in NY. It is Liar's poker plus BOV with a splash of Clockwork Orange insanity.
     


  7. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Senior member

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    Once again, for those of you who are either not old enough or non-local to lack knowledge of "Fear City" and the time period during which "Bonfires" was written, rent Albert Finney's movie "Wolfen" ... if you dare.
     


  8. Manton

    Manton RINO Dubiously Honored

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    Wolfe's intent is not to caricature. It is to present the most realistic, accurate portrayal possible. I happen to think he succeeds. Others obviously disagree.
     


  9. montecristo#4

    montecristo#4 Senior member

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    Thinking about it, I guess I'd have to agree with you. It's been almost 20 years since I've read the book (hard to believe) and my judgement is no doubt clouded by the movie, which (by virtue of casting and tone) definitely took on the air of satire and caricature.

    I will say that when I first read they book, I enjoyed it enough to go out and get my hands on every other Wolfe book I could find. In fact, it influenced me to become an institutional bond trader myself.
     


  10. imageWIS

    imageWIS Senior member

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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 [​IMG]
    The best part of the movie was that it featured the trading floor of Merrill Lynch on Vesey St. where I used to work. Anyone else suspect Manton of being Wolfe? Ha ha, we know he really isn't. [​IMG] Personally (no offense to Wolfe/Manton) I find American Psycho does a better job of caricaturing that time in NY. It is Liar's poker plus BOV with a splash of Clockwork Orange insanity.
    Well, lets give credit where credit is due; Manton is a good writer all on his own. Jon.
     


  11. newyorker

    newyorker Senior member

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    Absolutely agree. It's hard to write in such detail, clarity and conviction about the different personalities without doing a huge amount of research, and modeling his characters after real life personalities. It is also true that he probably chose the very extremes of the different kinds of personalities for his book.
     


  12. JBZ

    JBZ Senior member

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    I read BOV a long time ago, but I remember really enjoying it, up until the last 20 pages or so. I thought that the final transformation Sherman went through after being incarcerated was a bit abrupt. All of a sudden we were supposed to believe he had become a (physically) tough guy. I understand where Wolfe was trying to go with this (at least I think I do - Sherman having to adapt to a new way of ensuring his "survival"), but I just didn't buy the transformation.

    As to clothing, I also remember him looking at a young bond trader and seeing that he was wearing Johnston & Murphy shoes. Sherman commented that this was the brand of shoes he wore when he was first "coming up" as well, implying that one way success is measured is the type of clothing you wear (not that this is surprising).

    Jeff
     


  13. hopkins_student

    hopkins_student Senior member

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    Did you also play basketball at a fictional Ivy League university? If so, I think Tom Wolfe might be stalking you.
     


  14. Dakota rube

    Dakota rube Senior member

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    Wolfe's writing also influenced me, specifically The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test [​IMG] http://www.tomwolfe.com/KoolAid.html
     


  15. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Senior member

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    Is that high above the 46th parallel? [​IMG]
     


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