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Tom Wolfe, the master social novelist of our time, the spot-on chronicler of all things contemporary and cultural, presents a sensational new novel about life, love, and learning--or the lack of it--amid today's American colleges.
Our story unfolds at fictional Dupont University: those Olympian halls of scholarship housing the cream of America's youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.
As Charlotte encounters the paragons of Dupont's privileged elite--her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont's godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university's "independent" newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus--she is seduced by the heady glamour of acceptance, betraying both her values and upbringing before she grasps the power of being different--and the exotic allure of her own innocence.
With his trademark satirical wit and famously sharp eye for telling detail, Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons draws on extensive observations at campuses across the country to immortalize the early-21st-century college-going experience.
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About the Author
Tom Wolfe (1930-2018) was one of the founders of the New Journalism movement and the author of such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, as well as the novels The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. As a reporter, he wrote articles for The Washington Post, the New York Herald Tribune, Esquire, and New York magazine, and is credited with coining the term, “The Me Decade.”
Among his many honors, Tom was awarded the National Book Award, the John Dos Passos Award, the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence, the National Humanities Medal, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University, graduating cum laude, and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lived in New York City.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:March 2, 1931
Place of Birth:Richmond, Virginia
Education:B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. Copyright © 2004 by Tom Wolfe. To be published in November, 2004 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
Prologue: The Dupont Man
Every time the men's room door opened, the amped-up onslaught of Swarm, the band banging out the concert in the theater overhead, came crashing in, ricocheting off all the mirrors and ceramic surfaces until it seemed twice as loud. But then an air hinge would close the door, and Swarm would vanish, and you could once again hear students drunk on youth and beer being funny or at least loud as they stood before the urinals.
Two of them were finding it amusing to move their hands back and forth in front of the electric eyes to make the urinals keep flushing. One exclaimed to the other, "Whattaya mean, a slut? She told me she's been re-virginated!" They both broke up over that.
"She actually said that? 'Re-virginated'?"
"Yeah! 'Re-virginated' or 'born-again virgin,' something like that!"
"Maybe she thinks that's what morning-after pills do!" They both broke up again. They had reached that stage in a college boy's evening at which all comments seem more devastatingly funny if shouted.
Urinals kept flushing, boys kept disintegrating over each other's wit, and somewhere in the long row of toilet stalls somebody was vomiting. Then the door would open and Swarm would come crashing in again.
None of this distracted the only student who at this moment stood before the row of basins. His attention was riveted upon what he saw in the mirror, which was his own fair white face. A gale was blowing in his head. He liked it. He bared his teeth. He had never quite seen them this way before. So even! So white! They vibrated from perfection. And his square jaw . . . his chin and the perfect cleft in it . . . his thick thatchy, thatchy, light-brown hair . . . his brilliant hazel eyes . . . his! Right there in the mirrorhim! All at once he felt like he was a second person looking over his own shoulder. The first him was mesmerized by his own good looks. Seriously. But the second him studied the face in the mirror with detachment and objectivity before coming to the same conclusion, which was that he looked fabulous. Then the two of him inspected his upper arms where they emerged from the sleeves of his polo shirt. He turned sideways and straightened one arm to make the triceps stand out. Jacked, both hims agreed. He had never felt happier in his life.
Not only that, he was on the verge of a profound discovery. It had to do with one person looking at the world through two pairs of eyes. If only he could freeze this moment in his mind and remember it tomorrow and write it down! Tonight he couldn't, not with the ruckus that was going on inside his skull.
"Yo, Hoyt! 'Sup?"
He looked away from the mirror, and there was Vance with his head of blond hair tousled as usual. They were in the same fraternity. He had an overwhelming desire to tell Vance what he had just discovered. He opened his mouth but couldn't find the words, and nothing came out. So he turned his palms upward and smiled and shrugged.
"Lookin' good, Hoyt!" said Vance as he approached the urinals, "lookin' good!"
Hoyt knew it really meant he looked very drunk. But in his current sublime state, what difference did it make?
"Hey, Hoyt," said Vance, who now stood before a urinal, "I saw you upstairs there hittin' on that little tigbiddy! Tell the truth! You really, honestly, think she's hot?"
"Coo Uh gitta bigga boner?" said Hoyt, who was trying to say, "Could I get a bigger boner?" and vaguely realized how far off he was.
"Soundin' good, too!" said Vance. He turned away in order to pay attention to the urinal, but then looked at Hoyt once more and said with a serious tone in his voice, "You know what I think? I think you're demolished, Hoyt. I think it's time to head back while your lights are still on."
Hoyt put up an incoherent argument, but not much of one, and pretty soon they left the building.
Outside it was a mild May night with a pleasant breeze and a full moon whose light created just enough of a gloaming to reveal the singular wavelike roof of the theater, known officially here at the university as the Phipps Opera House, one of the architect Eero Saarinen's famous 1950s Modern creations. The theater's entrance, ablaze with light, cast a path of fire across a plaza and out upon a row of sycamore trees at the threshold of another of the campus' famous ornaments, the Grove. From the moment he founded Dupont University 115 years ago, Charles Dupont, no kin of the du Ponts of Delaware and much more aesthetically inclined, had envisioned an actual grove of academe through which scholars young and old might take contemplative strolls. He had commissioned the legendary landscape artist Gordon Gillette. Swaths of Gillette's genius abounded throughout the campus; but above all there was this arboreal masterpiece, the Grove. Gillette had sent sinuous paths winding through it for the contemplative strolls. But although the practice was discouraged, students often walked straight through the woods, the way Hoyt and Vance walked now beneath the brightness of a big round moon.
The fresh air and peace and quiet of the huge stands of trees began to clear Hoyt's head, or somewhat. He felt as if he were back at that blissful intersection on the graph of drunkenness at which the high has gone as high as it can go without causing the powers of reasoning and coherence to sink off the chart and get trashed. . . . the exquisite point of perfect toxic poise . . . He was convinced he could once again utter a coherent sentence and make himself understood, and the blissful gale inside his head blew on.
At first he didn't say much, because he was trying to fix that moment before the mirror in his memory as he and Vance walked through the woods toward Ladding Walk and the heart of campus. But that moment kept slipping away . . . slipping away . . . slipping away . . . and before he knew it, an entirely different notion had bubbled up into his brain. It was the Grove . . . the Grove . . . the famous Grove . . . which said Dupont . . . and made him feel Dupont in his bones, which in turn made his bones infinitely superior to the bones of everybody in America who had never gone to Dupont. "I'm a Dupont man," he said to himself. Where was the writer who would immortalize that feeling?the exaltation that lit up his very central nervous system when he met someone and quickly worked into the conversation some seemingly offhand indication that he was in college, and the person would (inevitably) ask, "What college do you go to?" and he would say as evenly and tonelessly as possible, "Dupont," and then observe the reaction. Some, especially women, would be openly impressed. They'd smile, their faces would brighten, they'd say, "Oh! Dupont!" while others, especially men, would tense up and fight to keep their faces from revealing how impressed they were and say, "I see" or "Uhmm" or nothing at all. He wasn't sure which he enjoyed more.
Reading Group Guide
1. I Am Charlotte Simmons might be considered a breakthrough for Tom Wolfe as a novelist in
that it's the first of his fictional works to be told (for the most part) from a woman's point of
view. Do you think Wolfe successfully and convincingly presents his tale from a female
2. Among the key relationships depicted in Chapter 1 is Charlotte's special bond with Miss
Pennington. What other mentors does Charlotte encounter over the full course of this novel?
Is Miss Pennington ever effectively replaced in this capacity? If so, when, and by whom, and
3. Define the following: "dormcest," "sexiled," "froshtitute," and "Sarc 3" (as well as "Sarc 2"
and "Sarc 1," for that matter). What other collegiate terms or slang vocabulary were new to
you as you made your way through the book?
4. At the beginning of Chapter 5, Hoyt Thorpe fondly looks back on learning (in a class called
"Europe in the Early Middle Ages") that long ago, throughout most if not all of civilization,
both East and West, there had been "only three classes of men in the world: warriors, clergy,
and slaves." Why do you think Hoyt is so drawn to this idea? Speaking metaphorically, who
are the "warriors, clergy, and slaves" of this novel? Which camp, for example, would you put
Charlotte in? What about her father, her roommate, or Jojo?
5. Who are the Millennial Mutants? Why do they call themselves this? Look back at a few of
their group discussions, wherein they jointly dissectand debatethis or that trend or
concept in contemporary American life (such as, for instance, Adam's ideas on what it means
to be "cool"). Then, try to investigate the validity and/or accuracy of the points being made by
the various Mutants; that is, dissect their dissections, critique their critiques, question their
assumptions and their logic, argue with their arguments.
6. Why is Jojo Johanssen so fixated on the life and thought of Socrates? What is it about
philosophical thoughtespecially ancient, fundamental, basic philosophythat appeals to
Jojo, a man of admittedly limited smarts? Are any of the other jocks at Dupont ever drawn to
matters intellectual? If so, whom? And why?
7. Looking back on the pivotal event of this novelthe Saint Ray formal, as detailed in Chapters
24, 25, and 26do you think it's accurate to assert (as has at least one book reviewer) that
Charlotte was raped?
8. What role does Charlotte's mother play in our heroine's life over the full arc of the story?
Describe their relationship. What does Charlotte seem to like or admire most about her
mother, and least? And why does Charlotte keep so many secrets from her? At one point, in
Chapter 27, Charlotte complains to her mother that she has lately "been under so much
stress." She immediately regrets using the word "stress," however, because "she knew
Momma would spot it right away for the trendy term it was. What was stress, when you got
right down to it, but just plain weakness when it came to doing the right thing?" Do you agree
with his view? Why or why not? And, more generally, what do you make of the country
wisdom (as culled from her Momma and from others) that Charlotte thinks back on, reminds
herself of, and draws lessons from through the novel?
9. Thinking particularly about the characters, personalities, backgrounds, and endeavors of Adam
Gellin, Jerome P. Quat, and Frederick Cutler III, explore the points that Tom Wolfe makes in
this book about Jewish intellectual life and achievement in America.
10. Clarify the difference between "Fuck Patois" and "Shit Patois"and, if it's not too
embarrassing, provide a few examples of each. More generally, discuss how the detailed,
wide-ranging, and incessant attention given by Wolfe to language throughout I Am Charlotte
Simmons relates to the attention he gives to (among other topics) class, wealth, society,
culture, ethnicity, history, politics, the media, literature, sports, and scholarship.
11. Both Chapters 31 and 32 end with the idea of being "a man"and yet two different ideas
seem to be at work here. Compare and contrast these two instances of manhood, and the
characters who define/embody these instances.
12. Although we are not told outright, what do you think will become of Hoyt Thorpe? What
path ultimately awaits him, upon graduation? What does his future hold? (Think back to the
story of his parents, of his childhood and his upbringing, when crafting your answer.) And
who finally revealed Hoyt's secrets to Adam Gellin, who sold him out?
13. Discuss I Am Charlotte Simmons as a work of fictionalized journalism, of reportage or
exposé. As one critic wrote of this novel, "Wolfe's authorial tone [throughout] is: You don't
have to like this, and I'm not too crazy about it myself, but this is the way it is, and we both
know it." Do you agree? Why or why not? Was there anything in this novel that youas a
reader and, perhaps, as a former college studentfound especially disturbing, surprising, or
even shocking? Or was there anything that struck you as incredible, implausible, or
unbelievable? In both cases, explain. In particular, talk about how Wolfe's novel explores:
the political correctness implicit in all of American scholarly life, and in all academic
politics; the big-time clout, and behind-the-scenes power and corruption, that defines
collegiate sports; and the rampant "binge drinking" that characterizes frat partiesand most
if not all other social functions at today's universities.
14. When asked by an interviewer which was chosen first during the creation of this bookthe
setting or the charactersWolfe admitted that it was the setting. Does this surprise you?
Why or why not?
15. Go back to a few of the many points in this novel where the lyrics to a popular song (be it
real or imaginary) are recited, quoted, or otherwise reprinted: rap, rock, whatever. Then,
discuss why and how these lyrics collectively function (like the Greek chorus of a classical
drama) as an ironic commentary on the narrative of I Am Charlotte Simmons.
16. Revisit the epigraph that begins this novel, the citation on Victor Ransome Starling from the
fictional Dictionary of Nobel Laureates. How does this citation mirror, or at least echo, the
behavior of various characters in the novel (especially Charlotte)?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thought this book was great, with Wolfe's descriptions of today's elite college life really hitting home. I went to an Ivy-league school, and I encountered the strange dichotomy in smart young people between their eagerness to learn and their sexual and moral abandon. This theme has of course already been explored many times, perhaps most famously in Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, where he talks about how young people in search of genuine self- knowledge are frustrated by today's highly politicized and morally relativistic universities. Charlotte seems to be the perfect foil here to demonstrate this: it is indeed ironic that Charlotte's family and mentor send her to Dupont, viewing it as a superior place of virtue when their own moral values are in reality much stronger. Her Momma's moral compass is precisely honed, and she is able to cut through Charlotte's half-lies and obfuscations sharply and precisely, while the faculty at Dupont are too befuddled with self- interest and self-importance to be able to do this. As a result, we are left wondering which world is better and more 'backwards' after all? But while I thought 'I Am Charlotte Simmons' is very successful in presenting these questions, I was confused by Charlotte character, particularly towards the end of the novel. The very last line of the book describes her as 'JoJo Johansen's girlfriend' as opposed to the 'Charlotte Simmons' of the title. Did she in the end lose her battle with the status-seekers of the university? She seems less to have struck some kind of balance than to still be genuinely confused. Perhaps with JoJo by her side, she has a compatriot who she can engage in genuine self-discovery with--and yet she realizes that JoJo is not one to discuss matters of the soul with. I confess that I felt frightened for Charlotte Simmons at the end, as if I were watching the last futile efforts of a flame struggling to survive in a place where the oxygen was rapidly depleting. I hope that some of Charlotte Simmons' traits of innocence, kindness, and genuine thirst for knowledge can survive the onslaught against them both by teachers and students, but I unfortunately doubt it.
"I am Charlotte Simmons" was dismmissed by the critics at the time of its publication As far as I know, it still is. And, it is structured in the same manner as his two previous fictional novels, "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "A Man in Full" - a hero (heroine in this case) who has achieved great success but through a combination of his own shortcomings, the "assistance" of disreputable people and "events", finds himself facing absolute and total personal failure. Then, when all appears lost, our hero finds the inner strength, the integrity and the set of fortuitous cicumstances that allows him to rise from the ashes and meet life on his own terms. That said, I think the critics, whoever they are, are wrong. If Bonfire is his opus work (fictional), then Charlotte is my favorite. Both her fall from grace and the depth of her dispair provide wonderful insight into the human condition. Soaring high on the fumes of her success - academic achievement, the attention of BMOC - to suddenly finding her world unraveling is highly recognizable to anyone with any sense of self. The moment she recognizes her "mistake" - when her 'bubble was burst' so to speak - and the resulting self-flagulation is literary goodness of some magnitude. Tom Wolfe at his best. I greatly enjoyed the read.
What a lot of puffy nonesense. I am so disappointed in this book. Mr. Wolfe has taken every potential negative experience of college life, inflated it by 300%, added an unnecessary amount of location description and f-bombs, and called it a novel. It makes me wonder if this was meant as a joke on the readers. I love books, preferring to read vs. watch TV, but not in the case of this trash. Don't waste your time.
Tom Wolfe successfully captures the nature of human behavior in his novel. This novel isn't for the squeamish because he is frank when he writes about Charlotte and her innocence when she encounters the wild life of college. In some instances, she reminded me of myself just in her daily experiences, and even made me turn in discomfort sometimes because her thoughts were so familiar. I believe that many of the themes in the novel are universal, and that everyone can relate to her, whether they are rich, poor, young, or old. One thing I didn't like, however, was that Tom Wolfe exaggerates many of the stereotypes of college life. I am only an incoming freshman college student, so I don't really know how much of the college life in the novel is true or not, but I believe that Wolfe stretches a few points. For instance, he portrays the basketball players as 'dumb jocks' and the sorority girls as the superficial elite. Real life athletes and sorority girls and all students in general may possess some of these characteristics, but the characters in the novel didn't portray them realistically. Overall, I enjoyed the novel. I can take some of the lessons I've learned from the book about friendships and convictions and apply them, hopefully, when I go to college.
First and foremost this was tough to get through. I read, read, read this book and it always felt like I got nowhere. I am 20 and in college and to be quite honest this was borderline pathetic. The part that continuesly let me down were his countless references to 'mons pubis', the fact that there was so much build up and the fall from glory seemed pretty melodramatic. I would agree with the comment that she is extremely naive. Another complaint I have was that he never described her appearance, from what I remember. I know that she has curly blonde hair and 'great calves'. Not even in the eyes of two men and one boy, Adam Gellin, did they describe her. A few questions that ran through my mind while reading this were,one in particular was if she was popular enough to date a frat boy and a college all star athlete why is it that her roommate Beverly looked down on her like she was like Betina. I could go on and on like Tom Wolfe did in this novel ( from the looks of it he was trying to rival the lenght of Don Quixote), but I would rather not.
I stuck with the book through the end, though I couldn't relate to Charlotte, and who could? Beautiful, brilliant, from a loving family, on full scholarship at an elite college. The way she treated Andrew Gellen made me realize how shallow she was: hardly a memorable character. Her naivete was simply not believable--no one with an IQ like hers could be so dim-witted. Andrew was the most interesting, fleshed-out character, but key things were left out, like who his parents were and how he came to be there. Such a simple thing it would have taken one paragraph. Maybe this book tried to do too much, getting into the heads of four or five different students with its multiple viewpoints and therefore spreading things too thin. It just didn't give me the experience I was looking for. If you want to read a college story, try one of the titles I've attached.
I really wanted to like this book, but just couldn't do it. It took awhile to catch my interest, but I kept at it and eventually found it more engaging. I found the long lists of 'big' words distracting. I enjoy adding to my vocabulary but when I found myself having to look up several words, it lessened my enjoyment of the book. I also usually found those words really didn't add anything. The end seemed anticlimacic I found myself thinking, 'I stuck it out through the whole book for this?'
I am glad in reading some reviews that other people agreed that this book wasn't all that the reviews had made it out to be. Regardless of Charlotte's sheltered background, I find it hard to believe that she is so naive. Additionally, why does the author insist on describing things in anatomical terms and on using such uncharacteristically (for a college student) large words. Charlotte was melodramatic and shallow as were all of the characters. And never, never in real life would the story end in such a way.
I read a few great reviews on this book b/4 purchasing, yet I had an extremely difficult time trying to get through it. I never got into the book. I thought there could've been SO much more depth to the story. Very disappointed and disinterested in reading other Thomas Wolfe books!!
This book was entertaining, but as a current college student, many of the images he portrays of 'typical' college students are completely exagerrated if not completely off. For anyone who knows anything about how an ACTUAL university functions, this can be a little bit of a ridiculous read, since you find yourself constantly rolling your eyes at the blatant exagerrations Wolfe repeatedly makes. However, I do give the book credit for being entertaining in it's own 'soap-opera' way.
I usually love Tom Wolfe's books, but I found this one disappointing. He spends a lot of time developing the characters and then has them do inexplicable things. How can Charlotte say, 'I am Charlotte Simmons', and then be content to be defined as the basketball player's girlfriend? Not to mention that the relationship between Charlotte and Jojo was not well developed at the end. It seemed as if Mr. Wolfe was rushed to finish the book, or else an editor edited it to shreds. Too many questions remained at the end of the book. Also, he describes a middle-aged lawyer and his family in the middle of the book. After going into great detail about them, they just disappear. Why put them in at all? I hope Mr. Wolfe's next book is as good as 'Bonfire of the Vanities' or 'Man in Full'. I was very disappointed with this story.
I guess it's a perfectly valid novel form i.e. a parody without the humor; just don't know what it is called. Every character in this book is an extreme stereotype. That makes for an entertaining read; but one with little or no relevance to the real world. Parents rest easy. For the majority of college students academics come first and the label on your jeans is not an issue.
This novel was absolutely terrible and I cannot possibly conceive how or why it garnered so much praise. The character development was abysmal, the plot structure was (if possible) worse, and the ending - a complete mockery of everything it means to be a 'novel.' Do not read - you will be HIGHLY disappointed.
I don't know why Tom Wolfe assumed he knew anything about young college women, but he clearly doesn't. This book is juicy in some areas, but ultimately irritating due to Wolfe's total lack of knowledge about the modern college experience. Yes! Roommates sometimes "sexile" you--big whoop! And in real life, naive, deeply religious Charlotte could join a Christian group on campus and be with her own kind instead of becoming a total outcast. These kind of details are passed over for the more "entertaining" plot of having the titular Charlotte Simmons *gasp* lose her virginity to a dumb preppy asshole. Horrors!
I've noticed that Wolfe rarely examines much having to do with the characters' religious faith. With this novel, he again passed up the perfect opportunity to do so. This is because (and I know from experience), late adolescence can often coincide with a crisis of faith. You cannot tell me that Charlotte, who was raised in a sheltered environment, and who, Wolfe leads us to believe in a couple of places, belongs to a church-going family, wouldn't think about the application of her faith. When spirituality is important in a family, and especially in the Bible Belt, one's parents gently, and sometimes not so gently, encourage their college-age children to attend church while they are away from home, or, at least, make the attempt to visit the university's Baptist or Methodist student union. That Charlotte's parents said nothing about this to her seems to me to be a gross omission. Wolfe could have included a scene wherein Charlotte attended a group Bible study, or something, but found she didn't fit in and that she still felt lonely. Wolfe needs to be a little more realistic about these matters. A Christian student could easily get drawn away into the more hedonistic elements of college life, but not for long. There has to be something beyond Charlotte's mortal existence that is the basis for the guilt and anguish she feels near the end of the book. Why does she feel horrible that she engaged in casual sex? Her values had to come from somewhere, but where? The author doesn't develop this important area.Keeping the above in mind, Adam could have been a "nice guy finishes last" type from church, and Hoyt could have been the worldly, good-looking heathen who tries to seduce Charlotte away from her core values. It would have been a more interesting juxtaposition, and far more in keeping with what we know about Charlotte's background.If Wolfe is squeamish in writing about religious faith, he should do more of his famous background research until he feels more confident than reluctant.I give this book two stars because Wolfe, as usual, shows his considerable gift of description.
Funny book with intellectual power behind it that makes it more than just a good read. The trademark style that makes Wolfe a delight to read is here, even if it's a little watered down compared to his other books. He does capture what college is like in this highly politicized age. His command of accentsThe use of fictional song lyrics The physical descriptions of people and dress and attitudesNot nearly as funny as Electric Cool Aid Acid Test, but it shows that the old man still has command over his talent.This book, incidentally, got lousy reviews from the "serious" book reviewers, and I think I read that it didn't sell nearly as many copies as its publisher had hoped. But frankly, I try to read everything of his I can get. He's never boring.
What a delicious and enthralling romp. I was utterly sucked into the world of Charlotte Simmons and found this book at turns juicy, hilarious and jaw dropping. I'm thrilled with some of my new vocab words ("soristitute," "sexiled," etc) and though I attended a university wholly unlike Charlotte's, I loved hearing about it all through her eyes. It's definitely a hefty book, but Wolfe's incomparable gifts for dialogue and his keen, cutting observations about class, race, and the desire that each of us has to just, ultimately, fit in kept me hooked.
This book was written supurbly. I can't believe how Wolfe got into the head of a college girl. With really alarming understanding, we live inside the heads of a jock, a frat boy, a dork, a sorority girl, and a small town innocent. The story of a young girl trying to stand up for her beliefs and finding herself preoccupied with the inane. I was reading this book for a few minutes every night before bed but it had me so stressed out that I had to just sit down and finish it! [a curious paragraph on the taught toleration for losers, p.103]
This book was my first Tom Wolfe book but it kept my attention, despite being extremely long. I loved it!
Not as successful as Bonfire of the Vanities, but to my mind, at least, an better book than Man in Full. It's Wolfe, so you know what you're getting: pyrotechnics and keen observation rather than approved minimalism, or high prose style. The critics who have gone after Wolfe for poor reportage are wrong one two counts: first, he's more-or-less accurate; second, such exagerations as exist are in the service of the plot. Wolfe, as usual, conceals a novel of ideas beneath his meticulous realism. And such omissions of reportage he does commit are to heighten the protagonist's isolation, to deny her any counsel, support, or resource in the face of Dupont University's cultural maelstrom. But as this is the contrast he's exploring, it's hard to fault him for that. I should add that the scenes of social awkwardness are absolutely excruciating. If, like me, you find humiliation harder to stomach than violence, this is at times an agonizing read.
Read this mostly because it is indeed a cartoon version of Duke, where I spent the last 8 years. Far too long; could easily lose a few hundred pages of repetition, little lectures crammed in sideways, and endless handwringing internal monologues. It's also overstuffed with Wolfe's research, which he doesn't seem to get quite right; I never heard folks from North Carolina talk like that, and his internet and Darwinism and neurobiology is wrong, so I gues I have to be suspicious of his portrayal of the world of undergrads. A bunch of strange tics as well; loamy loins, winking navels, and an obsession with using technical anotomical labels for bits of people. There's a plot upon which all this research is hung, but the book is really Wolfe's disapproval with the callow youth of today. None of the characters really ring true; the sleazy-beyond-description frat boys, the earnest basketball player who discovers the life of the mind, the self-important intellectual undergrads (their long passages of supposed scholarly debate were almost impossible to wade through), and especially the hopelessly naive protagonist and her moral fall. (I actually slightly prefer her post-Fall, but I'n not sure that's Wolfe's intent.) There's supposed to be a tie-in with neuroscience and peer pressure, but I coldn't make it work. Wolfe wants to write the Dickensian Social Novel (indeed, Dickens and Zola both get shout-outs), but his righteousness and research hobbyhorses have started getting in the way. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities, thought A Man In Full was OK, but won't be rereading this one. Each of the three books ends with a epilogue wrapping up loose ends; Bonfire's is delicious and bleak, Man in Full's is just odd, but this one strives for a Big Insight and fails I think.
I love books about school, especially college, and this was a good one. I loved the way Wolfe delved into the seductions of the intellectual life, as well as describing way youth and stupidity can completely destroy the virtues of higher education. It was an easy read -- and at some point, I felt very worried for one of the characters. I'm so glad I didn't stop reading because the last fourth was deeply satisfying.
In general, the criticism of the Wolfe's writing is pretty right on. However, as has been mentioned by some reviewers, the criticism of his sex scenes is unfounded as they are purposely anti-erotic and even animalistic, which is how he sees the sex of lives of American undergraduates. I was in school during the era Wolfe is drawing on and he nails it dead on, unfortunately. Some things were exaggerated for satire of course, but overall his depiction of the college life is closer to true than not. In fact, I saw more Charlotte Simmons characters at the large Ohio urban university I attended than I imagine exist at a place like Dupont (read Duke), but nonetheless rutruting was the order of the day. His book is particularly topical with the recent situation that has occurred at Duke with its lacrosse team. For those on a college campus in the late 90s and early 00s, this is the most spot representation of our experience I have seen yet. I say that with great regret.
I am a HUGE Wolfe fan. I count Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full Among my favorite books. So, needless to say, I didn't hesitate to plunge into I Am Charlotte Simmons.I was, unfortunately, quite disappointed. Wolfe usually is a master of capturing voices different from his own-New York yuppies, Southern frozen food magnates, Southern Californian factory workers. But his attempt to voice the inner thoughts of American college students seems one-note. The book veers from earnest to satirical, and never quite decides exactly what it wants to be. Having gone to college in the late nineties, I definitely recognized some of the familiar characters ("smart" kids acting stupid, fraternity keggers, one-night hook-ups), but they all seemed either too flat or too over the top to engage me. And the ending is so chaotic and abrupt that I lost all sense of connection to the characters.I heartily recommend Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full, but I would suggest skipping this one, or at least waiting for the paperback.
I bought it because I liked the cover. And because I'd heard so many disparaging reviews I had to see for myself. But I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. Definitely has its faults but also has some really wonderful moments. And as a reader, Wolfe is like a big meal, always satisfying and full.