A Man in Full

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The setting is Atlanta, Georgia — a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily politicians. The protagonist is Charles Croker, once a college football star, now a late-middle-aged Atlanta conglomerate king whose outsize ego has at last hit up against reality. Charlie has a 29,000 acre quail-shooting plantation, a young and demanding second wife, and a half-empty office complex with a staggering load of debt.

Meanwhile, Conrad Hensley, idealistic young ...

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A Man in Full: A Novel

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The setting is Atlanta, Georgia — a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily politicians. The protagonist is Charles Croker, once a college football star, now a late-middle-aged Atlanta conglomerate king whose outsize ego has at last hit up against reality. Charlie has a 29,000 acre quail-shooting plantation, a young and demanding second wife, and a half-empty office complex with a staggering load of debt.

Meanwhile, Conrad Hensley, idealistic young father of two, is laid off from his job at the Croker Global Foods warehouse near Oakland and finds himself spiraling into the lower depths of the American legal system.

And back in Atlanta, when star Georgia Tech running back Fareek “the Canon” Fanon, a homegrown product of the city’s slums, is accused of date-raping the daughter of a pillar of the white establishment, upscale black lawyer Roger White II is asked to represent Fanon and help keep the city’s delicate racial balance from blowing sky-high.

Networks of illegal Asian immigrants crisscrossing the continent, daily life behind bars, shady real estate syndicates — Wolfe shows us contemporary America with all the verve, wit, and insight that have made him our most admired novelist. Charlie Croker’s deliverance from his tribulations provides an unforgettable denouement to the most widely awaited, hilarious and telling novel America has seen in ages — Tom Wolfe’s most outstanding achievement to date.

Tom Wolfe was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Before THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, the literary question of the day was, Could Tom Wolfe, the self-proclaimed avatar of the New Journalism, write fiction? After BONFIRE, that question quickly became, Yeah, but can he do it again? Delayed by a number of false starts, revisions, and in 1996, a heart attack and subsequent quintuple bypass surgery, the publication of A MAN IN FULL marks Wolfe's return to the literary arena after more than a decade of conspicuous absence.

A MAN IN FULL is a sprawling novel of Dickensian proportions and scope, a philosophical exploration of modern manhood, fin de siècle morality, political gamesmanship, and racial identity, all informed by the underlying themes of reinvention and rebirth. Gone are the era-encapsulating catch phrases of his previous books — there's no "radical chic," no "right stuff," no "me decade," or "masters of the universe" to be found here. Instead, Wolfe has devoted his considerable talents to grounding his fiction firmly in journalistic fact, and to addressing one of the most substantial criticisms leveled at BONFIRE — that its characters were little more than cardboard cutouts, one-dimensional caricatures artfully arranged in a variety of strategic postures. In the central protagonists of A MAN IN FULL, Charlie Croker, Conrad Hensley, and Roger White, Wolfe has created memorable characters that rise above stereotypes — thinking, feeling characters that surprise even themselves in pursuing the possibilities open to them.

The bulk of Wolfe's novel takes place in the de facto capitol of theNewSouth, and what better place to set a novel of rebirth than Atlanta? Twice rebuilt from the ashes of devastating conflagrations (a phoenix figures prominently in the city seal), Atlanta has a pragmatic history of remaking itself to suit the shifting allegiances of industry and social makeup. Not a "true Southern city like Savannah, Charleston, or Richmond," Atlanta's crass commercial heritage uniquely qualifies it for the role Wolfe has in mind. It is here that Charlie Croker, a former Georgia Tech football star known as the Sixty-Minute Man, has parlayed his gridiron fame into a vast real-estate empire. A formidable figure who, at 60, still considers himself connected to the "rude animal vitality of his youth," Charlie may not be a master of the universe, but he is certainly master of a domain that includes a 29,000-acre plantation in southwestern Georgia named Turpmtine (pronounced "T,u,r,p,m,t,i,n,e" — in the manner of the 19th-century slaves who produced the plantation's original product), a palatial home in Buckhead, an opulently appointed Gulfstream Five jet, and the underleased, overfinanced office tower in one of Atlanta's "edge cities" known as Croker Concourse. As the result of overextending himself to erect this massive boondoggle, Charlie finds himself in default to his creditors to the sum of $750 million. His largest creditor, PlannersBanc, is the first to welcome him to the sober '90s with the news that it's the "morning after...and Croker Global's got the biggest hangover in the history of debt defalcation in the Southeastern Yew-nited States."

In the brilliantly executed chapter that follows, Charlie and Croker Global are given a humiliating "workout" by the bank's aptly named Real Estate Asset Management Department (REAMD) for gross mismanagement of funds. (Trust Wolfe to ferret out the one interesting aspect of banking and to portray it convincingly.) Faced with the prospect of losing his beloved Turpmtine, not to mention his Gee-Five and the $7 million personal dividend he reaps from the company each year, Charlie does what any beleaguered capitalist would do — he lays off workers in Croker Global's underperforming food division.

On the opposite side of the country, this arbitrary decision results in the swift and utter disfranchisement of Conrad Hensley, 23-year-old husband and father of two. Responsible, conscientious, and painfully naïve, Conrad dreams of attaining the bourgeois life he read about during his brief career in Community College. "Order, moral rectitude, courtesy, co-operation, education, financial success, comfort, respectability, pride in one's offspring, and, above all, domestic tranquillity" are his ideals. The bewildering descent from a body-and-soul killing job in the Croker Global Freezer Warehouse to his fateful confrontation with the authorities — a series of missteps that begins with a degrading job interview, progresses to his car being wrongfully impounded, and ends with Conrad doing jailtime for aggravated assault in the Santa Rita Correctional Facility — is a haunting evocation of the powerlessness and humiliation of life at rock bottom. Wolfe memorably satirizes this manifestation of Reagan-era "trickle-down" economics in an episode where Conrad is treated to a jailhouse baptism by "pizzooka." (If you can't summon up an appropriate mental image of this process, you're just not trying.) Only the timely arrival of a book of Stoic philosophy (Conrad had requested a bestselling legal procedural titled THE STOIC'S GAME, and instead received a copy of THE STOICS) and the nearly incoherent reassurances of his Hawaiian cellmate, Five-O, keep him going.

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, the novel's racially charged subplot is beginning to simmer. Roger White II, a successful black attorney (he cannot yet bring himself to embrace Jesse Jackson's coinage, "African-American"), has been summoned to the Buckhead manor of Georgia Tech football coach Buck McNutter to deffuse a potentially explosive incident: The daughter of one of Atlanta's most powerful (white) businessmen has privately accused Georgia Tech's star running back, Fareek "The Cannon" Fannon, of date-raping her during Freaknic weekend. Roger, a light-skinned blueblood whose tastes run to Stravinsky and bespoke suits (his detested nickname is Roger "Too" White), is given the unenviable task of approaching his childhood friend and fellow Morehouse Man Wes Jordan — now mayor of Atlanta — for help in containing the situation. But Andreé Fleet, a "blacker-than-thou" opportunist who rails against the complicity of "beige half-brothers" and bluntly proclaims that it is "high time Atlanta had its first...BLACK MAYOR," seeks to exploit Fannon's predicament for his own political ends. And unless Roger and Wes can enlist an unlikely ally from Atlanta's white elite, the city is certain to erupt along its racial fault lines.

How Wolfe joins these three major plot lines, along with an assortment of minor, but no less captivating threads, is nothing less than astonishing. Those who may find the quasi-religious elements of the denouement a bit far-fetched need only consider the rapid growth and alarming influence of certain less palatable "philosophies" such as the Church of Scientology to see how plausible Wolfe's conceit really is.

An inveterate cultural beachcomber, Wolfe sometimes goes too far — and other times not far enough — in spiking his narrative with his latest pop discoveries. His attempts at rap lyrics are predictably hilarious, and in all fairness, he may well have intended them to be. What else could explain a "Country Metal" band named "The Pus Casserole"? Puns on the order of a faithful black retainer referred to as "Auntie Bella," or a law firm called "Wringer Fleasom & Tick" fare better. A fussily dressed 68-year-old white guy can be forgiven, perhaps, for rhyming "akimbo" with "bimbo," but was it really necessary to use it four times over the course of the book? (Novelists take note: One "akimbo" per book, please.) Wolfe has always had a fascination with physical appearances, not least his own. But in A MAN IN FULL, physiognomy has become an obsession. Not a chapter elapses without a thorough cataloguing of bodily attributes. The constant carnal barrage of mesomorphs, endomorphs, stringy-necked jogging junkies, slim-hipped trophy wives, thick-torsoed jowly matrons, broad shoulders, massive necks, prodigious forearms, and loamy loins — nearly forgot the mantra, "boys with breasts" — takes a wearying toll after 700 pages. Similarly, what are we to make of the constant transliteration of Charlie's cracker dialect? These parentheticals are certainly useful for deciphering jailhouse gang-slang and Five-O's mystifying pidgin, but surely the one lasting contribution of the Carter presidency is that most of us are able to recognize a Georgia accent! Lastly, is there anyone on this planet — not born into a New Guinea cargo cult — who needs Tom Wolfe to explain the iconography of Michael Jackson and his trademark glove?

These are minor complaints in a novel of this complexity and wit, noticeable only because so much of Wolfe's eavesdropping is spot on. There isn't a wrong note in the dynamic between Roger White and Wes Jordan — black elitists learning late in their careers the political value of nurturing the African American within. The minutely choreographed interplay between Atlanta's movers and shakers at the opening of a homoerotic art exhibit is a dramatic marvel. And however painful, Wolfe's depiction of the social invisibility endured by the discarded first wives of corporate captains like Charlie Croker has the ugly sting of truth. But then, like an impish Puck holding up a mirror to all humanity, Wolfe has made a career of showing us our ugly truths.
—Greg Marrs

From the Publisher
#1 New York Times bestseller

“A masterpiece.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Superior ... utterly engrossing.”
USA Today

“The novel contains passages as powerful and as beautiful as anything written — not merely by contemporary American novelists but by any American novelist.... The book is as funny as anything Wolfe has ever written; at the same time it is also deeply, strangely affecting.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Wolfe is a peerless observer, a fearless satirist, a genius in full.”

Also by Tom Wolfe:

The Bonfire of the Vanities
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
From Bauhaus to Our House
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
The Painted Word
The Right Stuff
Mauve Gloves & Madmen
Clutter & Vine
In Our Time
The Pumphouse Gang
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers

Available wherever Bantam Books are sold

Christopher Caldwell
...Tom Wolfe has identified some of the real difficulties that best the modern novelist, and ...has made a strenuous effort — a manly effort — to show us what a remedy would look like....[H]e has fashioned vividly fresh scenes...and he has brought to bear spectacular satiric gifts.
Rhoda Koening
A Man in Full is actually a rather frail little fictional lamb — a simple story so loaded with sets and costumes it can hardly move....[It] will impress readers who measure literary merit with a fact-counter. But its narrative and characterisation are so wanting that it is hardly a novel at all.
Literary Review
Michael Lewis
The novel contains passages as powerful and as beautiful as anything written -- not merely by contemporary American novelists but by any American novelist. . .The book is as funny as anything Wolfe has ever written; at the same time it is also deeply, strangely affecting.
The New York Times Book Review
Ben Greenman
Wolfe's white-suit, black-mask act runs out of both time and energy...While the problems raised by the novel are serious ones, and Wolfe's comic treatment of them frequently wonderful, A Man in Full is not quite a book in full.
Time Out New York
Malcolm Jones
Wolfe's high-spirited description of the decline and fall of Atlanta real estate developer Charlie Croker is the hands-down literary event of the year....He's hip-deep in rave reviews...."He stirs debate and makes people think," says Joyce Carol Oates. —Newsweek
John O'Sullivan
Wolfe takes characters of different backgrounds and social standing and traces how each of them pursues (and sometimes radically alters) his own concept of honor in a society that no longer offers them either compass or stars to steer by.
The American Spectator
USA Today
A masterpiece.
New York Times Book Review
The novel contains passages as powerful and as beautiful as anything written — not merely by contemporary American novelists but by any American novelist.... The book is as funny as anything Wolfe has ever written; at the same time it is also deeply, strangely affecting.
Wolfe is a peerless observer, a fearless satirist, a genius in full.
George F. Will
. ..[A] great rooftop yawp of a novel....it strikes chords of anxieties about the nation's character....more caricature than portraiture, although caricature can, and here does, rise to literature....America, seen steadily and whole, is better than this. Perhaps Wolfe's third novel will be a happier — more realistic — yawp.
From The Critics
Tom Wolfe is one fine reporter. His second shot at the novel form is thoroughly reported, full of facts and figures and details. Scenes and subplots are so abundant in subcultural minutiae that they could be spun off into movies. Thus, after an immersion in A Man in Full, a reader can't help but be slightly educated about: how to move frozen food in a refrigerated warehouse; how real-estate development debts are created and recouped; how to shoot quail and distinguish the males from the females; how a rattlesnake moves and how to catch one barehanded; how to make a prison knife out of a hardback book cover; or how to talk like a Baker County, Georgia, native, a bank loan "workout artist" or a financial geek. And with Wolfe's frenetically verbalized, punctuated and italicized prose, the ride is a constantly entertaining one.

What makes this a novel, though, is that Wolfe turns his documentarian's gaze to cultural and moral mores as well as to technical procedures. And thus he comes up with The Bonfire of the Vanities II. A Man in Full is a dissertation suggesting that the obsessive compulsions of a society so concerned with all that is physical, temporary and grandiose has as its only hope a return to . . . Stoicism. And just about nobody is going to choose that, Wolfe suggests.

Charlie Croker, a nearly-broke egomaniacal 60-year old Atlanta real-estate developer and former sports hero (whose physical attributes are described in a near-caress of awestruck detail) is leaned on by his bank for money he doesn't have. With the end near (his beloved private Gulfstream jet repossessed), local Atlanta politicos (super-described in their at-least-partiallyaffected blacker-than-thou-ness) start leaning on Croker to speak out in favor of a black college athlete. Fareek "the Cannon" Fanon (also described as quite a physical specimen) is, perhaps, a rapist. If Croker plays his part, the mayor will get PlannersBanc to lay off its pressure; but then Croker's pals would, he fears, think badly of him: One fat cat is the father of the society princess who may have been raped by, or who may have simply been "hooking up" with, "the Cannon." Meanwhile, a mid-level PlannersBanc executive with the apt and Dickensian name (quite a few of those throughout) of Peepgas is plotting to get a big chunk of Croker real estate cheap. Wolfe also manages to include, in the Atlanta action, the racial and political awakening of a light-skinned black lawyer named Roger White II (or Roger Too White); Croker's first and second wives (the former 53 and thickening and wooed by Peepgas; the second a stunningly perfect "boy with breasts" of 28); and the developer's South Georgia plantation.

As if that weren't enough, on the other side of the country and in a different plotline, Conrad Hensley, 23-years old and too-soon married-with-wife-and-kids, works in a frozen-food warehouse (a holding of Croker's). Wolfe's attention to Hensley's appearance is, again, rapt. Soon enough, Hensley's been laid off (a cost-cutting move by Croker), has a hard time getting a job even though he's a terribly nice fella and, after a particularly bad day, gets arrested. He's thrown in the pokey and educated about jail life. In jail he becomes a devotee to the writings of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and a disciple to Zeus. Really. Hensley then escapes during an earthquake-a true deus ex machina-that Hensley believes was caused by the deity.

These plots and others interweave with one another in what dust-jacket blurbs describe as a richly woven tapestry. But Wolfe demands a peculiar sort of inconsistent willing suspension of disbelief from the reader. Names are hyper-unrealistic; physical characteristics seem more symbolic than convincing. You keep hearing machinery whirring and grinding, particularly when the author attempts to make points-about race, about the Internet, about good old boys-that aren't fresh.

Croker is excellently drawn, full-blooded and believable at least to the degree that Wolfe's suspension-of-disbelief atmosphere requires. Hensley seems too saintly until his role in the later part of the book justifies that conceit, but that's a problem few of the other characters have. They are, by and large, short-sighted, acquisitive, vain creatures; people you'd have a hard time hanging around for 750 pages, were there not a greater reason to do so.

It turns out, there is. In a book as massive and eagerly awaited as this, you're really looking for two kinds of "aha" factors: One, you want to say, "Aha, Wolfe's nailed the Zeitgeist." Second, you want to say, as you do reading Dickens et. al., "Aha, so it turns out that the orphan is actually the half-brother of the beggar's benefactor, which is so ironic because that locket in Chapter 3 had the answer the whole time!" Or something. Neither really clicks in A Man in Full. Particularly frustrating is that they start to, as you head into what promises to be a delicious stretch in the last 100 pages of so. But then Wolfe ends things exactly as you would have expected, and has the few loose ends that remain tied up offstage in one of those unfortunate scenes where characters engage in conversations like: "Hey, what did happen to old what's-his-name, the guy who was the main focus of the book for the first section?" And then Character Two says, "Oh, didn't you hear, he did thus and so."

But here's the punchline. The novel works. Despite the audible machinery, the dislikable characters, the sometimes unrevealing revelations, the weak ending, A Man in Full gets in your head and resonates. The subtextual obsession with men's fondness for men and disregard for women, the appearance of the ancient philosopher, the constant point/counterpoint between the ideals held up by most of Wolfe's characters and the apparently laughable stoicism that Hensley subscribes to ... it all evokes a decrepit Rome, a society obsessed with society. Wolfe, with his overactive reporter's notebook, evokes a landscape of people doomed to vacuity. It certainly doesn't work quite the way one might expect a a typical page turner to. But it is a fun ride, and when you get to the final turn, and are initially disappointed, it asks you to reconsider the trip. Did you just read a novel about all kinds of fancy exciting things happening in the late '90s in the City Too Busy to Hate? Or did you just read a document about the state of the state at the end of the millennium? — Jerome Kramer

Library Journal
Imagine Bonfire of the Vanities set in Atlanta: a star running back from the slums is accused of raping the daughter of a blueblood family even as Asian immigrants sneak into town and protagonist Charlie Croker, a football star turned businessman, tries to get out of debt.
George F. Will
. ..[A] great rooftop yawp of a novel....it strikes chords of anxieties about the nation's character....more caricature than portraiture, although caricature can, and here does, rise to literature....America, seen steadily and whole, is better than this. Perhaps Wolfe's third novel will be a happier -- more realistic -- yawp.
Matthew Cooper
This is an extraordinary novel: for its comedy, for its scope, for the way it evokes the Clinton '90s.....Bonfire of the Vanities was a warmup act. A Man in Full represents Wolfe at his best.
The Washington Monthly
Andrew Ferguson
A masterpiece...From the author of Bonfire we expect the brilliant jokes, the dead-on dialogue, the dazzling scene-setting that mark every page of his new novel. But now we get something more. Is it sympathy? Generosity? I'm not sure what to call it. But it is the difference between seeing the world in slices and seeing it in full.
The Wall Street Journal
John Updike
...[A] muscular opus.....warmed by the Southern setting....A Man in Full touches us with its grand ambition: a talented, inventive, philosophical-minded journalist....has gone for broke in this populous cyclorama of an Atlanta still at war.
The New Yorker
David Kamp
The freshness of the writing is remarkable...it's like the sun coming out.
Vanity Fair
Dierdre Donahue
Superior...Utterly engrossing...A big triumph for Tom Wolfe.
USA Today
Michiko Kakutani
It's clear, almost from the start, that A Man in Full is a big if qualified leap forward for Mr. Wolfe as a novelist. The cartoonish cast of Bonfire -- a collection of physical and sartorial tics animated by heaps of authorial malice -- has been replaced by characters who bear more of a resemblance to real, sympathetic human beings, and Mr. Wolfe's novelistic canvas has expanded persuasively to include not merely the powerful and rich but also the poor and middle-class.
The New York Times
John O'Sullivan
Wolfe takes characters of different backgrounds and social standing and traces how each of them pursues (and sometimes radically alters) his own concept of honor in a society that no longer offers them either compass or stars to steer by.
The American Spectator
Christopher Caldwell
...Tom Wolfe has identified some of the real difficulties that best the modern novelist, and ...has made a strenuous effort -- a manly effort -- to show us what a remedy would look like....[H]e has fashioned vividly fresh scenes...and he has brought to bear spectacular satiric gifts.
Paul Gray
No summary of A Man in Full can do justice to the novel's ethical nuances and hell-bent pacing, its social sweep and intricate interweaving of private and public responsibilities, its electric sense of conveying current events and its knowing portraits of people actually doing their jobs. Who, besides Wolfe, would have thought that banking and real estate transactions could be the stuff of gripping fiction?
Time Magazine
Malcolm Jones
Wolfe's high-spirited description of the decline and fall of Atlanta real estate developer Charlie Croker is the hands-down literary event of the year....He's hip-deep in rave reviews...."He stirs debate and makes people think," says Joyce Carol Oates.
Newsweek, December 28, 1998 - January 4, 1999
Malcolm Jones Jr.
Pundits like to talk about the Zeitgeist when they discuss Wolfe, but that's just fancy talk for the world we live in. Right now, no writer -- reporter or novelist -- is getting it on paper better than Tom Wolfe.
Newsweek, December 7, 1998
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553381337
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/30/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 189,242
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lives in New York City.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chocolate Mecca

For a while the Freaknic traffic inched up Piedmont ... inched up Piedmont ... inched up Piedmont ... inched up as far as Tenth Street ... and then inched up the slope beyond Tenth Street ... inched up as far as Fifteenth Street ... whereupon it came to a complete, utter, hopeless, bogged-down glue-trap halt, both ways, northbound, southbound, going and coming, across all four lanes. That was it. Nobody was moving on Piedmont Avenue; not anywhere, not any which way; not from here; not for now. Suddenly, as if they were pilots ejecting from fighter planes, black boys and girls began popping out into the dusk of an Atlanta Saturday night. They popped out of convertibles, muscle cars, Jeeps, Explorers, out of vans, out of evil-looking little econo-sports coupes, out of pickup trucks, campers, hatchbacks, Nissan Maximas, Honda Accords, BMWs, and even ordinary American sedans.

Roger Too White — and in that moment this old nickname of his, Roger Too White, which he had been stuck with ever since Morehouse, came bubbling up, uninvited, into his own brain — Roger Too White stared through the windshield of his Lexus, astonished. Out the passenger-side window of a screaming-red Chevrolet Camaro just ahead of him, in the lane to his left, shot one leg of a pair of fiercely pre-faded blue jeans. A girl. He could tell it was a girl because of the little caramel-colored foot that protruded from the jeans, shod only in the merest of sandals. Then, much faster than it would take to tell it, out the window came her hip, her little bottom, her bare midriff, her tube top, her wide shoulders, her long wavy black hair with its heavenly auburn sheen. Youth! She hadn’t even bothered to open the door. She had come rolling out of the Camaro like a high jumper rolling over the bar at a track meet.

As soon as both feet touched the pavement of Piedmont Avenue, she started dancing, thrusting her elbows out in front of her and thrashing them about, shaking those lovely little hips, those tube-topped breasts, those shoulders, that heavenly hair.


A rap song was pounding out of the Camaro with such astounding volume, Roger Too White could hear every single vulgar intonation of it even with the Lexus’s windows rolled up.


— sang, or chanted, or recited, or whatever you were supposed to call it, the guttural voice of a rap artist named Doctor Rammer Doc Doc, if it wasn’t utterly ridiculous to call him an artist.


— sang the chorus, which sounded like a group of sex-crazed crack fiends. It took a Roger Too White to imagine that sex-crazed crack fiends could get together and cooperate long enough to sing a chorus, although he did correctly identify Doctor Rammer Doc Doc, who was so popular that even a forty-two-year-old lawyer like himself couldn’t completely shut him out of his waking life. His own tastes ran to Mahler and Stravinsky, and he would have gladly majored in music history at Morehouse, except that music history hadn’t been considered too great a major for a black undergraduate who wanted to get into the University of Georgia law school. All of that, compressed into a millisecond, blipped through his mind in this moment, too.

The girl swung her hips in an exaggerated arc each time the fiends hit the BOO of BOOTY. She was gorgeous. Her jeans were down so low on her hips, and her tube top was up so high on her chest, he could see lots of her lovely light-caramel-colored flesh, punctuated by her belly button, which looked like an eager little eye. Her skin was the same light color as his, and he knew her type at a glance. Despite her funky clothes, she was a blueblood. She had Black Deb written all over her. Her parents were no doubt the classic Black Professional Couple of the 1990s, in Charlotte or Raleigh or Washington or Baltimore. Look at the gold bangles on her wrists; must have cost hundreds of dollars. Look at the soft waves in her relaxed hair, a ‘do known as a Bout en Train; French, baby, for “life of the party” cost a fortune; his own wife had the same thing done to her hair. Little cutie, shaking her booty, probably went to Howard or maybe Chapel Hill or the University of Virginia; belonged to Theta Psi. Oh, these black boys and girls came to Atlanta from colleges all over the place for Freaknic every April, at spring break, thousands of them, and here they were on Piedmont Avenue, in the heart of the northern third of Atlanta, the white third, flooding the streets, the parks, the malls, taking over Midtown and Downtown and the commercial strips of Buckhead, tying up traffic, even on Highways 75 and 85, baying at the moon, which turns chocolate during Freaknic, freaking out White Atlanta, scaring them indoors, where they cower for three days, giving them a snootful of the future. To these black college students shaking it in front of his Lexus, this was nothing more than what white college students had been doing for years at Fort Lauderdale and Daytona and Cancún, or wherever they were going now, except that these boys and girls here in front of him weren’t interested in any beach. They were coming to the ... streets of Atlanta. Atlanta was their city, the Black Beacon, as the Mayor called it, 70 percent black. The Mayor was black — in fact, Roger and the Mayor, Wesley Dobbs Jordan, had been fraternity brothers (Omega Zeta Zeta) at Morehouse — and twelve of the nineteen city council members were black, and the chief of police was black, and the fire chief was black, and practically the whole civil service was black, and the Power was black, and White Atlanta was screaming its head off about “Freaknik,” with a k instead of a c, as the white newspapers called it, ignorant of the fact that Freaknic was a variation not of the (white) word beatnik but of the (neutral) word picnic. They were screaming that these black Freaknik revelers were rude, loud, rowdy, and insolent, that they got filthy drunk and littered the streets and urinated on (white) people’s lawns, that they tied up the streets and the malls and cost the (white) merchants millions of dollars, even that they made so much noise they were disrupting the fragile mating habits of the rhinoceroses at the Grant Park zoo. The mating habits of the rhinos!

In other words, these black boys and girls had the audacity to do exactly what white boys and girls did every year during their spring breaks. Oh yes, and White Atlanta was screaming everything they could think of, except for what they really thought, which was: They’re everywhere, they’re in our part of town, and they’re doing what they damn well please — and we can’t stop them!

Out of the other side of the Camaro popped the driver, a great lubberly lad. A snub-tailed Eclipse was practically touching his rear bumper. He put one hand on the airfoil lip on the trunk of the Camaro and — youth! — vaulted between the two cars and landed right in front of the girl. And no sooner had his feet touched the pavement of Piedmont Avenue than he was dancing.


He was a tall fellow, slightly darker than she was, but not much. He could still pass the Brown Paper Bag Test, as they used to call it here in the Black Beacon, which meant that so long as your skin was no darker than a brown paper bag from the grocery store, you were eligible for Black Society and black debs. He had on a baseball cap, backward. He had one gold earring, like a pirate’s. He had on an orange T-shirt so big the short sleeves came down to his elbows and the neck opening revealed his clavicle; the tail came down below his hips, so that you could barely see his baggy cut-off jeans, whose crotch hung down to his knees. On his feet he wore a pair of huge black sneakers known as Frankensteins, with rubbery white tongue-like shapes lapping up the sides from the soles. Homey; that was the look. Ghetto Boy; but Roger Too White, who was wearing a chalk-striped gray worsted suit, a blue-and-white-striped shirt with a white collar crisp with stays, and a navy silk tie, wasn’t buying this ghetto rags getup: the boy was big, but he was fat and happy. He didn’t have those hard muscles and thong-like tendons and that wary look through the eyes of the ghetto boy — and he did have a Chevrolet Camaro that must have set his daddy back close to $20,000. No, this was probably the son of somebody who had inherited the oldest black bank or insurance company in Memphis or Birmingham or Richmond or — Roger Too White checked out the license plate: Kentucky — okay, in Louisville — from his daddy. Our Louisville company chairman-in-embryo, now a college boy, has come to Atlanta for three days for Freaknic, to raise hell and feel like a true blood and righteous brother.

Roger Too White looked up ahead and to his left and behind him, and everywhere he looked there were happy, frolicsome black boys and girls like this pair, out on the pavement of Piedmont Avenue, dancing between the cars, shouting to each other, throwing away beer cans that went ping! ping! ping! on the roadway, shaking their young booties, right at the entrance to a white enclave, Ansley Park, and baying at that chocolate moon. The very air of Saturday-night Atlanta was choked with the hip-hopped-up mojo of rap music booming from a thousand car stereos —


— and then he took a look at his watch. Oh shit! It was 7:05, and he had to be at an address on Habersham Road in Buckhead, some street he had never laid eyes on, by 7:30. He had allowed himself plenty of time, because he knew Freaknic was in progress and the traffic would be terrible, but now he was trapped in the middle of an impromptu block party on Piedmont Avenue. He felt panicky. He could never say this out loud to a living soul, not even to his wife, but he couldn’t stand the thought of being late for appointments — especially where important white people were concerned. And this was the Georgia Tech football coach, Buck McNutter, an Atlanta celebrity, a man he didn’t even know, who had summoned him out on a Saturday night, urgently; unwilling to even go into it on the telephone. He couldn’t be late to an appointment with a man like that. Couldn’t! Maybe that was craven of him, but that was the way he was. Once, when he was representing the MoTech Corporation in the Atlanta Pythons stadium negotiations, he was standing around in a conference room up in the Peachtree Center with a bunch of white lawyers and executives, and they were all waiting for Russell Tubbs, whom he knew very well because he, too, was black and a lawyer. Russ was representing the city. One of these big meaty white business types, a real red-faced Cracker, is talking to another one, just as big, red-faced, and slit-eyed, and they’ve got their backs to him. They didn’t know he was there. And one of them says, “When the hell’s this guy Tubbs gonna get here?” And the other one puts on this real Cracker-style imitation of a black accent and says, “Well now, I don’ rightly know de answer to dat. Counselor Tubbs, he operates on C.P.T.” Colored People’s Time. Roger Too White had used that tired old joke himself, with other brothers, but to hear it come out of the mouth of this fatback white bigot — he wanted to strangle him on the spot. But he didn’t strangle him, did he — no, instead he had swallowed it ... whole ... and pledged to himself that he would never — ever! — be late to an appointment, particularly with a prominent white person. And he never had been, from that day to this — and now he was trapped in a Freaknic Saturday-night block party that could go on forever.

Desperate, Roger Too White sought a way out — the sidewalk. He was in the right lane, the lane next to the curb, and maybe he could drive up over the curb and onto the sidewalk and down to Tenth Street and get out that way somehow. The sidewalk was against an embankment topped by a fence with rustic stone pillars that ran up the hill of Piedmont Avenue. The embankment was like a cliff, retaining a stretch of high ground that cropped up between the avenue and Piedmont Park, which was on the other side. Right above the wall you could see a low structure that from this angle looked like a lodge in the mountain resort area of western North Carolina. There was a terrace, and up on that terrace were a bunch of white people in formal clothes. They were peering down at the Freaknic revelers.


From where he was, he could see the white faces of the men and the shoulders of their tuxedos. He could see the white faces of the women and, in many cases, their bare white shoulders and the bodices of their dresses. They were not smiling. They were not happy. Bango! The Piedmont Driving Club! That was what this otherwise unremarkable building was: the Piedmont Driving Club! Now he recognized it! The Driving Club was the very sanctum, the very citadel of the White Atlanta Establishment. He got the picture immediately. These white swells had no doubt planned this big party for this Saturday night ages ago, never dreaming it would coincide with Freaknic. And now their worst white nightmare had come true. They were marooned in the very middle of it. Black Freaknik! On this side, black boys and girls were ejecting from their automobiles and shaking it to Doctor Rammer Doc Doc’s “Ram Yo’ Booty.” On the other side, in Piedmont Park, thousands of black boys and girls were gathering for a concert featuring another rapper, G.G. Good Jookin’. All those white faces up on the Driving Club terrace could look here, and they could look there, and they could see nothing in any direction but a rising tide of exuberant young black people, utterly unfettered and unafraid.

Perfection! The perfect poetic justice was what this black traffic-jam jam session on Piedmont was! The very origin of the Piedmont Driving Club was ... driving vehicles. The club had started up in 1887, just twenty-two years after the Civil War, when the Atlanta elite, which meant the white elite, it went without saying, had begun meeting on the weekends in what was now Piedmont Park to show off their buggies, phaetons, barouches, victorias, and tallyhos with all the custom bodywork and harnesses and tack and the hellishly expensive horses, in order to bask in one another’s conspicuous consumption. So then they had bought themselves a clubhouse, and gradually they had enlarged it, and eventually it became the rambling structure up there on the high ground he was looking at right now. It wasn’t all that long ago that no black man set foot in the place unless he was a cook, a dishwasher, a waiter, a doorman, a maître d’, or an attendant who parked the members’ cars. Lately the Driving Club had seen the handwriting on the wall, and they were looking for some black members. Roger himself had received an overture, if that was what it was, from a jolly lawyer named Buddy Lee Witherspoon. That was an example of just how Too White even white people perceived him to be, wasn’t it! Well, they could just go kiss his — he was damned if he would ever set foot in that place and circulate on that terrace with all those white faces he was now staring up at — not even if they got down on their knees and begged him. Hell, no! He was going to get out of this Lexus sedan and join the party and stand in the street and raise his black fists up toward that terrace and roar out to them: “Look, you want a driving club? You want a driving club that convenes at Piedmont and Fifteenth Street? You want to see the elite meet? Then feast your eyes on this! Take a good look! BMWs, Geos, Neons, Eclipses, sports utilities, Hummers, runabouts, Camrys, and Eldorados, millions of dollars’ worth of cars, in the hands of young black Americans, billions of volts of energy and excitement, with young black America in the driver’s seat and shaking its black booty right in your pale trembling faces! Look at me! Listen to me, because I’m going to—”

But then he lost heart, because he knew he wasn’t going to say that or anything else. He wasn’t even going to get out of the car. Got to be at Coach Buck McNutter’s house in Buckhead in less than twenty-five minutes, and Coach Buck McNutter is very white.

For an instant, as he had many times before, Roger Too White hated himself. Maybe he was too white ... Too White ... His father, Roger Makepeace White, pastor of the Beloved Covenant Church, had named him Roger Ahlstrom White II, out of his intellectual reverence for a religious historian named Sidney Ahlstrom. His father had thought that the II was the proper designation for sons who had the same first name as their fathers but different middle names. So when he was a boy growing up in Vine City and Collier Heights, all his aunts and uncles and cousins had started calling him Roger Two, and then everybody started calling him Roger Two, as if he had a double name like Buddy Lee. Then when he got to Morehouse in the seventies, his fellow students turned that perfectly harmless nickname on him like a skewer through the ribs and started calling him Roger Too White instead of Roger White II. He had come to Morehouse, the crown jewel of the four black colleges that made up the Atlanta University Center, with the misfortune of being deeply influenced in all matters political (and moral and cultural and pertaining to personal conduct, property, dress, and etiquette) by his father, an ardent admirer of Booker T. Washington. Booker T. had made the most important pronouncement of his life right over there in Piedmont Park, his so-called Atlanta Compromise speech of 1895 at the Cotton States Exposition, in which he said black people should seek economic security before political or social equality with whites. Alas, the late seventies were a time when, especially at Morehouse, the number-one elite blueblood black college in America, molder of the much-vaunted Morehouse Man, you had to be for the legacy of the Panthers and CORE and SNCC and the BLA and Rap and Stokely and Huey and Eldridge, or you were out of it. Black Atlanta’s own Martin Luther King had been murdered not even ten years before, and so obviously gradualism and Gandhiism and all that were finished. If you were a proponent of Booker T. Washington, then you were worse than out of it. The way people acted, you might as well have been waving a placard for Lester Maddox or George Wallace or Eugene Talmadge. But damn it all, Booker T. was no Uncle Tom! He never kowtowed to the white man! He didn’t even want integration! He said the white man will never like you! He said he’ll never treat you fair out of the goodness of his heart! He’ll treat you fair only after you’ve made something out of yourself and your career and your community and he’s dying to do business with you! But nobody at Morehouse, and certainly nobody in Omega Zeta Zeta, wanted to even hear about all that. They wanted to hear about confrontations with the White Establishment and gunfights with the cops that brothers had had in the sixties. Booker T. Washington? Roger Too White they started calling him, and he hadn’t been able to shake it in the whole three decades since then.

And maybe they were right ... maybe they were right ... In this very moment, as he looked up through the windshield of his Lexus at the Piedmont Driving Club, in this very moment when he felt the urge to get out of the car and lift his fists to the heavens and announce the new dawn, he was pulled in two directions. Part of him was so proud of these boys and girls all around him on the street, these young brothers and sisters who didn’t hesitate for a second to claim the streets of Atlanta, all the streets, as their own, with just as much Dionysian abandon as any white college students — while another part of him said, “Why can’t you put on a classier show? If you can afford the BMWs and the Camaros and the Geo convertibles and the Hummers” — he could see one of those monsters, a Hummer, four or five cars ahead of him —

He turned his head to take another look at the Deb dancing in the street —


He couldn’t believe it. She was now up on top of the Camaro, dancing as if she were on top of a bar, like the bar of the Sportsman’s Club downtown on Ellis Street. And there wasn’t just her lubberly boyfriend staring up at her, there was a whole mob of boys, college boys, the jeunesse dorée of Black America, all of them wearing their ghetto rags and jumping around like a bunch of maniacs and grinning and shrieking, “Take it off! Take it off! Take it off!”


The Deb, this beautiful, exquisite young woman, was merrily teasing them on, grinding her booty and projecting her breasts, and touching the top of the fly of her jeans with both hands, as if at any moment she was about to unzip them, slip them down off her hips, all with a salacious leer on her lips and a lubricious look in her eyes.


There must have been thirty berserk boys around that Camaro, wild with anticipation. Some were thrusting money up toward her. She looked at them with a grin of concupiscent mockery and continued to grind her hips.

Roger Too White’s heart was pounding, partly because he feared what a terrible turn this exhibition might take — but also — and he felt this immediately, in his very loins — because he had seldom been so aroused by any sight in his life — he didn’t want her to — and yet he did —

— when suddenly Circe, the Deb, the golden tan daughter of some Ideal Black Professional Couple of the 1990s, stretched her right arm straight out, pointing upward — and grinned.

Stunned, astonished, her besotted subjects on the pavement swiveled their heads in that direction, too. Now they were all looking upward, obedient drones of Circe, the great tubby lubberly Louisville company chairman-in-embryo among them. They had all spotted the white people up on the terrace of the Driving Club peering down from the formal eminence of their tuxedos and cocktail dresses. All the boys and girls, the whole street full of them, began laughing and shouting.


Then they all started dancing, all those black boys and girls out in their shiny screaming sea of cars, with the Deb up on top of the Camaro like the Queen of the Rout, all facing in one direction, toward the Piedmont Driving Club, shaking their booties and thrashing their elbows. Did they know that this was the Piedmont Driving Club and what the Piedmont Driving Club was? Not one chance in a thousand, thought Roger Too White. All they saw was a clutch of bewildered white people clad in their evening clothes. The dance in the street became a good-natured mockery. You want to see Freaknic? Then we’ll show it to you! We’ll give you a real eyeful! We’re loose! We’re down! You’re dead! You’re rickety!


— Suddenly a new rap song was pounding from the Camaro —


With each CHOC of CHOCOLATE MECCA the Black Deb on top of the Camaro thrust her hips this way, and with each UNNHHH! she thrust them that way. And now the whole block party was doing the same thing, grinning and laughing at the stricken white people on the terrace.


Suddenly the tubby boy, the company chairman-to-be, stopped dancing, wheeled about, and walked up close to his Camaro, facing the passenger-side door. What was he doing? The Black Deb apparently wondered the same thing, because she stopped dancing, too, and looked down at him. He was so close to the Camaro, you couldn’t see anything but his back, but he seemed to be fumbling with the fly of his cut-off jeans. Roger Too White had a disheartening premonition ... Surely he wouldn’t ... right there in the middle of Piedmont Avenue ... Now the boy reached down under the tail of his long, floppy T-shirt and lifted it as high as his waist and hooked his thumbs over the top of his cut-off jeans and, in a single motion, pulled his jeans and his undershorts down around his knees and leaned over and stuck out his big fat bare bottom.

The Black Deb shrieked and exploded with laughter. Boys and girls all over the street shrieked and exploded with laughter.



He was mooning the very Piedmont Driving Club itself!

Roger Too White, encased in his fancy Lexus and his $2,800 custom-made suit and $125 shirt and crêpe de chine necktie, was appalled. He wanted to cry out: “Brothers! Sisters! Is this why you’ve become the jeunesse dorée of Black America? Is this why we’ve finally scaled the heights educationally and professionally? Is this why your parents struggled to accumulate the capital to give you those cars you’re cruising around Atlanta in tonight? Is this why they made sure your generation went to college? So you brothers could act like this? Wearing ghetto rags and snorting and squealing like rutboars and turning that beautiful sister into a common Ellis Street hootchy and throwing money at her? And you sisters — why would you do something like this? You veritable flowers of black womanhood — why would you let the brothers turn you into the very same stereotypes that the hip-hop videos make you out to be? Why don’t you say no to such sexist disrespect? Why don’t you insist, as you should, as you easily could, upon the love, affection, and genuine respect you deserve? Brothers, Sisters, listen to me—”

At the same time another feeling entirely was sweeping through his loins. Deep inside he was ... exhilarated. The freedom of these young brothers and sisters, the abandon, the Dionysian fearlessness on the very threshold of the Piedmont Driving Club—

Oh my God, oh my God—

Oh, Chocolate Mecca!

Miraculously, the traffic started moving again, and the girls and boys popped back into their cars as fast as they had ejected from them, and the Freaknic traffic began inching up Piedmont Avenue once more. Not a moment too soon, either. The Black Deb had managed to take advantage of the brief interlude of mocking the stuffed white shirts on the terrace of the Driving Club to scramble back down into the Camaro, alongside her fat moon-happy friend, and now the traffic was moving again, and it was all over.

Roger Too White’s heart was still pounding, from a fear of what the scene might have turned into — and from a sexual stimulation that made him wonder all over again about his proper forty-two-year-old self — but he managed to keep his wits about him long enough to peel off from Piedmont Avenue at Morningside Drive.

He sped over to Lenox Road and then headed north and made a big loop around the Lenox Square area, which he knew would be clogged with Freaknickers. By driving much too fast, he managed to get over to Habersham Road, near West Paces Ferry, only eleven minutes late.

Aw, man ... Habersham Road ... It was dusk, but it was still light enough to see what Habersham Road was ... Georgia Tech was treating Coach Buck McNutter like a king. The Stingers Club, the new group of alumni football boosters, had raised enough money to top off the university’s regular football coach’s pay enough, and guarantee the great McNutter $875,000 a year, thereby wooing him away from the University of Alabama. As a bonus on a bonus, they guaranteed him a house in Buckhead, gratis. Not only that, Habersham Road was obviously in the very best part of Buckhead. The lawns rose up from the street like big green breasts, and at the top of each breast was a house big enough to be called a mansion ... Trees everywhere ... reaching up so high it was obvious they were virgin timber ... boxwood bushes so big and dense and well clipped, you could hear all those gardeners snickersnacking away just by looking at them ... and, above all, the dogwood. It was a late spring, for Georgia, and the dogwood had just burst out in all their glory. Here in the gloaming, the white blossoms, arranged in their distinctive planes, swept from green breast to green breast, from mansion to mansion, estate to estate, as if some divine artist had adorned the heavenly air itself with them to show that the residents of Buckhead, off West Paces Ferry Road, were the elect, the anointed, the rightful white hard grabbers of whatever Atlanta, Georgia, had to offer. In Cascade Heights and at Niskey Lake, where Roger Too White lived, way down in Southwest Atlanta, he and a lot of other successful black people, the lawyers, the bankers, the insurance company executives, had big houses — some with white columns — and big lawns and, for that matter, dogwood. But it just wasn’t the same. Niskey Lake didn’t have those big green breasts, and the dogwood blossoms didn’t seem to exist in such divine clouds...

Roger Too White drove his Lexus up a driveway that ascended the lush swell of the lawn McNutter. As seen through the planes of dogwood blossoms, the house appeared to have been done in the French Maison Lafitte style, with lofty casement windows from which came a soft, mellow light, upstairs and down. At the top of the hill, the driveway made a showy loop, bordered with liriope, in front of the house. Roger Too White parked near the front door. As he walked toward it, he remembered all the stories he had heard of the black men who had been hassled and detained by not only the police but also the Buckhead private security patrols ... just for being black and setting foot on this hallowed earth near the holy white corridor of West Paces Ferry Road.

The doorbell was answered by Coach Buck McNutter himself. Oh, there was no mistake about that. Roger Too White had never met the man before, but he knew that face. He had seen it God knew how many times on television and in the pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was the real loose-sausage-eating, brown-liquor-drinking Southern face of a white athlete turned forty and covered with a smooth well-fed layer of flesh. His neck, which seemed a foot wide, rose up out of a yellow polo shirt and a blue blazer as if it were unit-welded to his trapezius muscles and his shoulders. He was like a single solid slab of meat clear up to his hair, which was a head of hair and a half, a strange silvery blond color, coiffed with bouncy fullness and little flips that screamed $65 male hairdo. Not a single cilium was out of place. Amid the vast smooth meat of his head and neck, his eyes and his mouth seemed terribly tiny, but they were both going all out to register pleasure at the sight of Counselor Roger White, this black man who had arrived at the door at 7:42 on Freaknic Saturday night.

“Hey, Mr. White!” exclaimed Coach Buck McNutter. “Buck McNutter!”

With that, he extended an enormous right hand. Roger Too White put out his own hand and felt it disappear, knuckles and all, inside a grip that made him wince.

“Sure do ‘preciate you doing this! Particularly” — P’tickly — “on a Saturday night!”

“Not at all,” said Roger Too White. There was something so desperate about the man’s show of gratitude, he didn’t bother apologizing for being twelve minutes late.

“Come on in and make yourself comfortable!” Then, over his shoulder: “Hey, Val, Mr. White’s here!”

Val turned out to be a blond woman, in her late twenties, if Roger Too White was any judge. Everything about her, especially the provocative way she lowered her eyebrows when she smiled, gave off whiffs of frisky trouble. She came into the entry hall from some side room with the same desperate delight in her eyes as the coach.

“Hi!” She really sang it out.

“Mr. White, I want you to meet my wife, Val!”

So they shook hands, too. There was so much frenzied grinning going on that Roger Too White couldn’t help grinning himself. He understood part of it. He saw this type of prominent white person all the time in Atlanta. Buck McNutter was a prototypical Southern white boy, from Mississippi, which was an even harder case than Georgia, a real hardtack Cracker in his heart but one who had decided that if he had to deal with these nigras, then the better part of valor was to put on a good show of being civil about it. (Proving Booker T. absolutely right, of course.)

“Let’s go on in the library, Mr. White,” said Buck McNutter.

With this, he dropped the grin. In fact, his beefy face grew long, verging on sad. Obviously the pertinent part of Counselor White’s house call on Habersham Road was about to begin.

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Prologue: Cap'm Charlie

Charlie Croker, astride his favorite Tennessee walking horse, pulled his shoulders back to make sure he was erect in the saddle and took a deep breath . . . Ahhhh, that was the ticket . . . He loved the way his mighty chest rose and fell beneath his khaki shirt and imagined that everyone in the hunting party noticed how powerfully built he was. Everybody; not just his seven guests but also his six black retainers and his young wife, who was on a horse behind him near the teams of La Mancha mules that pulled the buckboard and the kennel wagon. For good measure, he flexed and fanned out the biggest muscles of his back, the latissimi dorsi, in a Charlie Croker version of a peacock or a turkey preening. His wife, Serena, was only twenty-eight, whereas he had just turned sixty and was bald on top and had only a swath of curly gray hair on the sides and in back. He seldom passed up an opportunity to remind her of what a sturdy cord no, what a veritable cable kept him connected to the rude animal vitality of his youth.

By now they were already a good mile away from the Big House and deep into the plantation's seemingly endless fields of broom sedge. This late in February, this far south in Georgia, the sun was strong enough by 8 a.m. to make the ground mist lift like wisps of smoke and create a heavenly green glow in the pine forests and light up the sedge with a tawny gold. Charlie took another deep breath . . . Ahhhhhh . . . the husky aroma of the grass . . . the resinous air of the pines . . . the heavy, fleshy odor of all his animals, the horses, the mules, the dogs . . . Somehow nothing reminded him so instantly of how far he had come in his sixty years on this earth as the smell of the animals. Turpmtine Plantation! Twenty-nine thousand acres of prime southwest Georgia forest, fields, and swamp! And all of it, every square inch of it, every beast that moved on it, all fifty-nine horses, all twenty-two mules, all forty dogs, all thirty-six buildings that stood upon it, plus a mile-long asphalt landing strip, complete with jet-fuel pumps and a hangar all of it was his, Cap'm Charlie Croker's, to do with as he chose, which was: to shoot quail.

His spirits thus buoyed, he turned to his shooting partner, a stout brick-faced man named Inman Armholster, who was abreast of him on another of his walking horses, and said:

"Inman, I'm gonna—"

But Inman, with a typical Inman Armholster bluster, cut him off and insisted on resuming a pretty boring disquisition concerning the upcoming mayoral race in Atlanta: "Listen, Charlie, I know Jordan's got charm and party manners and he talks white and all that, but that doesn't" dud'n"mean he's any friend of . . ."

Charlie continued to look at him, but he tuned out. Soon he was aware only of the deep, rumbling timbre of Inman's voice, which had been smoke-cured the classic Southern way, by decades of Camel cigarettes, unfiltered. He was an odd-looking duck, Inman was. He was in his mid-fifties but still had a head of thick black hair, which began low on his forehead and was slicked back over his small round skull. Everything about Inman was round. He seemed to be made of a series of balls piled one atop the other. His buttery cheeks and jowls seemed to rest, without benefit of a neck, upon the two balls of fat that comprised his chest, which in turn rested upon a great swollen paunch. Even his arms and legs, which looked much too short, appeared to be made of spherical parts. The down-filled vest he wore over his hunting khakis only made him look that much rounder. Nevertheless, this ruddy pudge was chairman of Armaxco Chemical and about as influential a businessman as existed in Atlanta. He was this weekend's prize pigeon, as Charlie thought of it, at Turpmtine. Charlie desperately wanted Armaxco to lease space in what so far was the worst mistake of his career as a real estate developer, a soaring monster he had megalomaniacally named Croker Concourse.

"—gon' say Fleet's too young, too brash, too quick to play the race card. Am I right?"

Suddenly Charlie realized Inman was asking him a question. But other than the fact that it concerned Andre Fleet, the black "activist," Charlie didn't have a clue what it was about.

So he went, "Ummmmmmmmmmmm."

Inman apparently took this to be a negative comment, because he said, "Now, don't give me any a that stuff from the smear campaign. I know there's people going around calling him an out-and-out crook. But I'm telling you, if Fleet's a crook, then he's my kinda crook."

Charlie was beginning to dislike this conversation, on every level. For a start, you didn't go out on a beautiful Saturday morning like this on the next to last weekend of the quail season and talk politics, especially not Atlanta politics. Charlie liked to think he went out shooting quail at Turpmtine just the way the most famous master of Turpmtine, a Confederate Civil War hero named Austin Roberdeau Wheat, had done it a hundred years ago; and a hundred years ago nobody on a quail hunt at Turpmtine would have been out in the sedge talking about an Atlanta whose candidates for mayor were both black. But then Charlie was honest with himself. There was more. There was . . . Fleet. Charlie had had his own dealings with Andre Fleet, and not all that long ago, either, and he didn't feel like being reminded of them now or, for that matter, later.

So this time it was Charlie who broke in:

"Inman, I'm gonna tell you something I may regret later on, but I'm gonna tell you anyway, ahead a time."

After a couple of puzzled blinks Inman said, "All right . . . go ahead."

"This morning," said Charlie, "I'm only gonna shoot the bobs." Morning came out close to moanin', just as something had come out sump'm. When he was here at Turpmtine, he liked to shed Atlanta, even in his voice. He liked to feel earthy, Down Home, elemental; which is to say, he was no longer merely a real estate developer, he was . . . a man.

"Only gon' shoot the bobs, hunh," said Inman. "With that?"

He gestured toward Charlie's .410-gauge shotgun, which was in a leather scabbard strapped to his saddle. The spread of buckshot a .410 fired was smaller than any other shotgun's, and with quail the only way you could tell a bob from a hen was by a patch of white on the throat of a bird that wasn't much more than eight inches long to start with.

"Yep," said Charlie, grinning, "and remember, I told you ahead a time."

"Yeah? I'll tell you what," said Inman. "I'll betcha you can't. I'll betcha a hundred dollars."

"What kinda odds you gon' give me?"

"Odds? You're the one who brought it up! You're the one staking out the bragging rights! You know, there's an old saying, Charlie: `When the tailgate drops, the bullshit stops.'"

"All right," said Charlie, "a hundred dollars on the first covey, even Stephen." He leaned over and extended his hand, and the two of them shook on the bet.

Immediately he regretted it. Money on the line. A certain deep worry came bubbling up into his brain. PlannersBanc! Croker Concourse! Debt! A mountain of it! But real estate developers like him learned to live with debt, didn't they . . . It was a normal condition of your existence, wasn't it . . . You just naturally grew gills for breathing it, didn't you . . . So he took another deep breath to drive the spurt of panic back down again and flexed his big back muscles once more.

Charlie was proud of his entire physique, his massive neck, his broad shoulders, his prodigious forearms; but above all he was proud of his back. His employees here at Turpmtine called him Cap'm Charlie, after a Lake Seminole fishing-boat captain from a hundred years ago with the same name, Charlie Croker, a sort of Pecos Bill figure with curly blond hair who, according to local legend, had accomplished daring feats of strength. There was a song about him, which some of the old folks knew by heart. It went: "Charlie Croker was a man in full. He had a back like a Jersey bull. Didn't like okra, didn't like pears. He liked a gal that had no hairs. Charlie Croker! Charlie Croker! Charlie Croker!"

Whether or not there had actually existed such a figure, Charlie had never been able to find out. But he loved the idea, and he often said to himself what he was saying to himself at this moment: "Yes! I got a back like a Jersey bull!" In his day he had been a star on the Georgia Tech football team. Football had left him with a banged-up right knee, that had turned arthritic about three years ago. He didn't associate that with age, however. It was an honorable wound of war. One of the beauties of a Tennessee walking horse was that its gait spared you from having to post, to pump up and down at the knees when the horse trotted. He wasn't sure he could take posting on this chilly February morning.

The two shooters, Charlie and Inman, rode on in silence for a while, listening to the creaking of the wagons and the clip-clopping of the mules and the snorts of the horses of the outriders and waiting for some signal from Moseby.

You could hear the low voice of one of the buckboard drivers saying, "Buckboard One to base . . . Buckboard One to base . . ." There was a radio transmitter under the driver's seat. "Base" was the overseer's office, back near the Big House. Buckboard One . . . Charlie hoped Inman and Ellen and the Morrisseys and the Stannards got the drift of that and were reminded that he had sent out four shooting parties this morning, four sets of weekend guests, with four buckboards Buckboards One, Two, Three, and Four, four kennel wagons, four dog trainers, four sets of outriders, four of everything . . . Turpmtine was that big and that lavishly run. There was a formula. To send out one shooting party, with one pair of shooters, half a day each week for the entire season, which ran only from Thanksgiving to the end of February, you had to have at least five hundred acres. Otherwise you would wipe out your quail coveys and have no birds to shoot the following year. To send out one party all day once a week, you had to have at least a thousand acres. Well, he had 29,000 acres. If he felt like it, he could send out four parties all day, every day, seven days a week, throughout the season. Quail! The aristocrat of American wild game! It was what the grouse and the pheasant were in England and Scotland and Europe only better! With the grouse and the pheasant you had your help literally beating the bushes and driving the birds toward you. With the quail you had to stay on the move. You had to have great dogs, great horses, and great shooters. Quail was king. Only the quail exploded upward into the sky and made your heart bang away so madly in your rib cage. And to think what he, Cap'm Charlie, had here! Second biggest plantation in the state of Georgia! He kept up 29,000 acres of fields, woods, and swamp, plus the Big House, the Jook House for the guests, the overseer's house, the stables, the big barn, the breeding barn, the Snake House, the kennels, the gardening shed, the plantation store, the same one that had been there ever since the end of the Civil War, likewise the twenty-five cabins for the help he kept all this going, staffed, and operating, not to mention the landing field and a hangar big enough to accommodate a Gulfstream Five he kept all this going, staffed, and operating year round . . . for the sole purpose of hunting quail for thirteen weeks. And it wasn't sufficient to be rich enough to do it. No, this was the South. You had to be man enough to deserve a quail plantation. You had to be able to deal with man and beast, in every form they came in, with your wits, your bare hands, and your gun.

He wished there was some way he could underline all this for Inman. Inman's father had built up a pharmaceuticals company back at a time when that was not even a well-known industry, and Inman had turned it into a chemicals conglomerate, Armaxco. Right now he wouldn't mind being in Inman's shoes. Armaxco was so big, so diverse, so well established, it was cycleproof. Inman could probably go to sleep for twenty years and Armaxco would just keep chugging away, minting money. Not that Inman would want to miss a minute of it. He loved all those board meetings too much, loved being up on the dais at all those banquets too much, loved all those tributes to Inman Armholster the great philanthropist, all those junkets to the north of Italy, the south of France, and God knew where else on Armaxco's Falcon 900, all those minions jumping every time he so much as crooked his little finger. With a corporate structure like Armaxco's beneath him, Inman could sit on that throne of his as long as he wanted or until he downed the last mouthful of lamb shanks and mint jelly God allowed him whereas he, Charlie, was a one-man band. That was what a real estate developer was, a one-man band! You had to sell the world on . . . yourself! Before they would lend you all that money, they had to believe in . . . you! They had to think you were some kind of omnipotent, flaw-free genius. Not my corporation but Me, Myself & I! His mistake was that he had started believing it himself, hadn't he . . . Why had he ever built a mixed-use development out in Cherokee County crowned with a forty-eight-story tower and named it after himself? Croker Concourse! No other Atlanta developer had ever dared display that much ego, whether he had it or not. And now the damned thing stood there, 60 percent empty and hemorrhaging money.

The deep worry was lit up like an inflammation. Couldn't let that happen . . . not on a perfect morning for shooting quail at Turpmtine.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 12, 2010

    You will be satisfied in full..

    A Man in Full is a masterpiece - a pure reading pleasure from start to finish. It is Tom Wolf's second novel (he is primarily a nonfiction writer), published a full decade after his first, "Bonfire of the Vanities", but well worth the wait. Bonfire was great, this one is even better.

    The story centers around Charlie Croker, an aging bigger-than-life southern good-ole-boy real estate developer who has lost his edge but not his swagger, a swagger he is not about to give up without a good fight, bum knee be damned. He has over-extended his real estate empire and is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, Donald Trump style. Charlie's increasingly desperate attempts to stave off financial ruin are what get the story's party started. Fasten your seat belts you're in for quite a ride.

    Swirling around Charlie's life are a host of vividly, masterfully drawn characters too numerous to list, and all playing out their own dramas. A few of the more memorable: Conrad Hensley, a young working class man who, by a series of unfortunate mishaps, ends up in a California prison where he accidentally becomes schooled in the philosophy of Stoicism; a smooth talking black Atlanta mayor trying to keep a lid on a potentially politically explosive rape case; Martha, Charlie's cast-off first wife who at age 53 begins a desperate quest to find a man in Atlanta high society, and Raymond Peepgas, a low level banker who, resentful of watching the big boys play and take all the marbles, decides to unleash his "Red Dog" mojo in a do-or-die attempt to swindle his way to fortune. Along the way we get immersed in the inner workings of Atlanta politics and racial tensions, the Asian immigrant underground railroad, quail hunting, high-stakes real estate deals, stud horse breeding, and a brutally intense portrayal of prison life - all served up with Wolf's masterful story-telling and razor-sharp, and often outrageously funny social observations, boldly unhampered by politically correct skittishness.

    Then the net is cast and all the characters and situations are reeled in to a superbly entertaining conclusion that will not disappoint, and even at 700 pages, it seems too short. Of his three novels, this is his best and would make a spectacular movie. One is left wondering if the botched adaptation of Wolf's "Bonfire of the Vanities" has scared off Hollywood. Too bad, Charlie Croker could become a movie classic along side the likes of George Bailey, Dirty Harry or Norman Bates, only funnier.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2015

    Good stuff - I give it an eleventy billion.

    This hereya fellas got quite the way with words - he plays with them like a street magician plays with coins.

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    Excellent read. Highly recommended.

    Excellent read. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted January 20, 2012

    A Must Read

    This is a fabulous read, written by a real wordsmith. Wolfe's skills dwarf most of today's writers. It is very difficult to put down. If you know anything about the City of Atlanta it is even better. Don't miss this book!

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  • Posted October 26, 2008

    We are all connected in some way to every other person, six or sixteen degrees of separation. This is a fascinating fictionalized parody/study of the 1990's with connections and characters you couldn't dream of. chock full of witty satire.

    A Multimillionaire is actually connected to a single father of two who is only 23 years old and works at a tiny factory across the country. An African American lawyer is hired to defend a white football all star player for raping an African American woman, bringing an onslaught of fury from his community. These are just a few examples, and the connections are not readily apparent. You will find yourself shocked and surprised and amused by all the connections and twists and turns. The many plotlines overarch fantastically. I don't want to give much else away but I have lent this book to many friends of various ages and interests and all have loved it. My original copy is tattered beyond repair. I give it as a gift often and highly, highly recommend it. Perhaps one of the best parts about Tom Wolfe's writing is his sense of humor and the satire he brings to the table.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2006

    A Man Full of Himself

    As a Georgia native, I quickly discovered that this so-called 'realistic' novel with its 'realistic' characters was really just a choppy series of Southern stereotypes. The Southern dialect, which is arrogantly and unnecessarily mapped out for the reader, is overblown and sometimes completely inaccurate. The characters are merely hyperbolic shells of real people, with a convergence that is empty and abrupt. This novel is excellent for those who enjoy fun facts about Southern geography, but then again, why not just buy an Atlas and a history book?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2005

    Full of Nothing

    I dove into this novel with high expectations after having read I am Charlotte Simmons, and was greatly dissapointed. I absolutely fell in love with Tom Wolfe, but in this book he did not seem to shine in the same way. The plot was hazy and I was overwhelmed with descriptions that drifted me further away from the actual story. I could no longer endure the agony that I was forced to endure while reading it, and I stopped without going through more than half of the book. I am an Atlanta native and he doesn't seem to know anything but the superficial aspects of life in Atlanta. Hopefully his other novels will not be as dissapointing as this one was.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2004

    An Average Read

    I found the situations the characters were placed in to be forced. Conrad's string of 'luck' was hard to believe. Charlie, a greedy man for many years, changes his philosophy on life overnight? I stayed with the book until the end hoping it would get better but only came out of it with a sense of relief that it was over with. By the way, I finished just in time, the cover fell off.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2003

    Simply Brilliant

    In true Dickensian fashion, Wolfe delivers a resounding tale that, more importantly, functions to get to the root of the American way(s) of life in the late 20th Century. A Man in Full will not only captivate audiences now at the turn of the 21st Century, but will be used for decades (if not centuries) to come in order to gain an intelligent insight into the complex social fabric that binded society together in the late 1900s.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2003

    A review by an English class from Germany

    Review `A Man in Full´ by Tom Wolfe ´A Man in Full` by Tom Wolfe is not a novel to be categorized easily. Therefore it is not only recommendable for a certain type of readership, either. It is for everyone who is interested in learning more about how society works about the religion of the Stoics, or the geography of Atlanta, Georgia. This is how complex the book is. With its length of more than 700 pages it might scare you off first but once you start to read, it does not matter anymore. `A Man in Full´ is actually more like three books in one because it tells the story of more than three main characters whose lives all meet at the end of the plot through the brilliantly complex plot. One of them is Charlie Croker, a real-estate developer out of money, who realizes that there is not much of yourself left once you lose your possessions as a member of the high society. When he is supposed to defend a black athletic, who is accused of having raped a girl of the high society in order to keep his money, he is forced to decide what is really important to him. During the plot, the reader is taught about many different things that show the author¿s competence. Tom Wolfe in fact did a lot of research for this book, e.g. about prison life or about life on Georgia plantations. Another feature of this novel is the author¿s detailed description. It really helps you imagining things, it is like you have been to the places yourself and you have seen the characters yourself. This is another reason why the book got so long. It is a little disappointing, though, that this very detailed story is ended kind of abruptly. Other than that there is nothing to criticize about this book. It is both entertaining and informative, a combination which only great authors like Tom Wolfe can create.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2001


    an excellent novel that everyone should have the privledge of reading

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2001

    Another Winner from Mr. Wolfe

    I read this book shortly after I had finished Bonfire of the Vanities, and this book is a worthy successor. Like Bonfire, Wolfe is very descriptive in his scenes and characters. It is interesting how the story develops in several scenes from Conrad working in the Croker Warehouse in California, to Charlie Croker's 'workout' session with Plannersbanc, and then how it all comes together. I found Conrad's interest in Stoicism fascinating, that it has made me interested in reading philosophy. Also, I liked the ending as well which I won't give away. If you loved Bonfire of the Vanities, you'll love this one. I'm curious to see what Tom Wolfe's next book will be about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2000

    Why did it have to end?

    I absolutely loved this booked and looked forward to times when I was able to curl up with it. However, I was so disappointed with the ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2000

    Hype In Full

    I laboured through the pages of Mr Wolfe's book latet book. The book is atimes too lengthy and tedious to read but the brief spurts of great writing in between provides more than enough consolation. Some passages in the book compare with the best prose I have read from any contemporary author in a very long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2000

    parallels and paradoxes

    I loved the parallels and paradoxes the reader can play with by substituting 'God' for 'Zeus' and Christian' for 'Stoic.' The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes that only through allegory could Wolfe illustrate Biblical truth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2000

    Bigger is Better!!!

    Don't be turned off by the novel's length. It holds the reader's interest from beginning to end. Should make a great movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2000

    book is terrible

    The book 'A Man in Full' is filled with nonsense and skips from scene to scene so it is very hard to follow and too much of this book has to be read between the lines.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2000

    Died at the End

    Right up until the time that Charlie gave his speech I was mesmorized. It all fell apart in a meaningless ending. With all of the clever build up to bring these characters together, you would think that Tom Wolfe could have done better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2000

    They don't get no better than this !!!

    Every positive adjective known to mankind, in any language, applies to this novel. It is truly a masterpiece, in every sense. Nobody 'hits the nail on the head' like Tom Wolfe. Enjoyed every single word of it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2000

    His Worst!!

    I've read almost all of Wolfe's books. I believe he is one of the finest authors of the latter half of the twentieth century. This book is, however. simply a boring repeat of his past glorys. C'mon Tom, you can do way better!

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