Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Bonfire of the Vanities

by Tom Wolfe.

Quickie recap: When Sherman McCoy, Wall Street bigshot, gets into a hit-and-run accident with his mistress, the shit hits the fan, and a young assistant D.A., a desperate journalist and a fervent reverent combine their efforts to make an example of him while quickly forgetting the young victim fighting for his life in hospital and becoming a case of black vs white, rich vs poor.

Quickie review: Wayyyy back in 2004, I read a book by Wolfe called I Am Charlotte Simmons, and my disgust for him was cemented in that moment. Yuck. It was a farce. It was an old man trying to be cool by emulating "street slang", and writing rap lyrics from the heart of the black community which made Vanilla Ice seem gangsta in comparison. It was awful. I think it prompted a couple of monkeys in a scene from the movie Madagascar to comment "I hear Tom Wolfe's speaking at Lincoln Center" (the other monkey signs frantically) and the first monkey responds, "Well, of course we're going to throw poo at him!" I heartily agreed. So I've been afraid to pick up another of his books since. In contrast, Bonfire of the Vanities wasn't that bad - but still not good. It deals with the race issue in a marginally more subtle way, but not with any sensitivity or insight. You feel a little bit dirty reading this book, like Wolfe is trying to impress you with his connections to high society, but it falls flat and dull and utterly un-literature-like. It reminds me of another cartoon-quote (Fry, Futurama): its level of intelligence is lower than Nancy Drew, but higher than The Hardy Boys. Enough said.

Quickie recommendation: Leave it on the shelf.

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