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 learningor the lack of itamid 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 eliteher 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 campusshe is seduced by the heady glamour of acceptance, betraying both her values and upbringing before she grasps the power of being differentand 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 got to the point in this book where I was so far into it, I was finishing it out of sheer spite. I refused to let the simple story of a girl that could not possibly exist going through the most impossible of self-inflicted problems get the best of me. I fully accept that this accomplishment, much like the tale of Charlotte Simmons, really means nothing.Know what's interesting? I listened to this on audiobook and at the very end there is a brief interview with Tom Wolfe. At one point, he's asked if he created Charlotte as an answer to the criticism that he has all but ignored women in his writing. He had an answer that went on about how he hadn't set out to do it on purpose but that he found Charlotte so compelling as a character and he really wanted to find out what happened to her. So who is this Charlotte that is so compelling that Wolfe had to write about her? On the surface I suppose she's an intellectually stimulating virgin saving herself for marriage with no patience for those morally inferior to her but prepared to mother inferior men into superior versions of themselves. She gets to Dupont despite her inferior economic class, her lack of opportunity and her failure to have everything handed to her on a platter. She's come to college to experience intellectual pursuit only to discover that all potential women friends are simple, slutty, guttermouth girls and while all men seemingly fall at her feet, they're unworthy of Charlotte's attention due to their morally inferior character.While making Charlotte an object of conquest to three men (a starter on the basketball team, a major player in the biggest fraternity on campus and the token smart boy with a chip on his shoulder), Wolfe also makes it clear that no woman will be her true friend. Charlotte quickly alienates her roommate and makes no real attempt to create a social circle for herself outside of two hangers-on that merely get her to our fraternity guy. It really is this dull, and yet Charlotte seems to take great glee in this lack of friendship as a badge of honor. After all, why be friends with those who are morally inferior to you? Of course, she does have the guys that are constantly after her and her and her morally superior ways. And why exactly do these guys stick around after the first few conversations? She has nothing in common with these men (well, virginity with one of them and she likes him least), she is clueless about popular culture, her ability to empathize is non-existent, she has no discernible hobbies and she can't even accept a simple invitation to lunch without being completely annoyed. I can understand the equally social-awkward guy who complains constantly about his virginity putting up with some of this behavior for a prolonged period - but the player in the fraternity (even as a conquest?) or the starter on the basketball team? With no real kindness that comes from Charlotte ever - with no moment where she even remotely lets up or has a moment of fun that isn't her gushing about her being superior to others simply trying to fit in, why am I to care if this girl from a small mountain town really makes it as arm candy? Then again, it's Wolfe's fantasy and not mine.
Tom Wolfe likes to write novels that describe the entire contemporary American scene, and he did a good and amusing job with both Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. This latest work is rather more problematic. It's sometimes amusing, and sometimes a page turner, but it also feels like a 65 year old man complaining about how everything sucks these days, how the kids have no respect, today's god-awful music, how everything is now too complicated and so on. I don't know if it's that he isn't, at root, really interested in the lives of students, or if he has just let his misanthropy run wild, but the book feels false in so many details, and when the details one is sure of feel false, one's natural inclination is to doubt the veracity of the rest of the book. Meanwhile, at the end of the day the main thing a book like this has going for it is its claim to be an accurate portrait of America.Details I felt rang false included:* The descriptions of technology. Tech devices (computers, digital music players, cell phones) are constantly portraited as these alien artifacts. We are expected to believe that Charlotte is startled by a phone menu. We have Charlotte being afraid to make long distance calls because they are so expensive. We never have casual reference to the realities of student tech like utilizing a laptop to access library catalogs, or instant messaging, or email. This is tech as seen by a technophobic old man, not tech as seen by students.* Charlotte is supposed to be a genius, but Wolfe seems quite uninterested in exactly where her genius lies. It's not in a science field, but now we are expected to believe that a genius in the humanities nonetheless has no idea of contemporary American culture or, for that matter, the perennial human condition of trying to figure out oneself and the opposite sex. (Sure she is supposedly taking a neuroscience course, but in Wolfe's description neuroscience appears to be a blend of philosophy, history, and literature; certainly not, god forbid, a science with math and chemistry and physics and suchlike.)* Wolfe is quite happy to scold us on how awful it is that students feel compfortable with sex (and even worse, that some of them feel comfortable being gay), but appears uninterested in ever asking what these students think, or for that matter, quite why he feels so discomforted by them. Rather than taking the fact that they are so much less hung up on sex than he is as an interesting fact and riffing off that, all we hear is the standard story of how awful it is that the new generation thinks differently about these matters than he does. And Charlotte, being his alter ego, comes across as a much less interesting, and much less pleasant person, for being so dogmatic about something for no reason. Towards the last third of the book, he becomes quite hysterical about this, like he's channeling Paul of Tarsus or something, going on and on about animal urges, how disgusting the human body is and so on. With respect to Charlotte's story, for example, he could have justified the point he is trying to make through arguments about how we all feel a tension between our long term and our immediate desires, and that society would do well to teach us how to resist short term urges that work against our long term goals. But all we get is this inane ranting about the evils of the flesh.* DuPont seems populated by a small fraction of hypersexed lookers and athletes, and a large population of everyone else. The everyone elses make occasional appearances as lonely lookers on at parties, as people sitting in corridors watching others go by, but Wolfe is uninterested in them. At the end of the day, it's not at all clear what he's after. One way or another, he indicates that the 90% of DuPont that aren't beautiful are both leading standard university lives (with lots of studying and small amounts of sex and partying), and that they're not worthy of serious interest. What he cares about is
I think if I hadn't been listening to this novel on CD, I never would have finished it. The pace is excruciatingly slow. The story, however, was fairly interesting and compelling -- at least enough that since my reading was passive and occurring while driving, I didn't feel the need to switch it off.What everyone tends to marvel over is how well Tom Wolfe, an old man, writes Charlotte, a young girl. Well, most of those people probably aren't young college girls either. He does a fairly good job of portraying the macro-experience of college life, but he never adequately manages to motivate Charlotte, or explain her reactions.Perhaps the worst thing about his book is the language. I'm no prude, and certainly heard and sometimes used that kind of language on my college campus, but since I was listening to it in my car, I never knew when I was going to be stopped at a light with my windows down, and have a character let out a string of obscenities that made me worry how much the car next to me could hear.I don't think I'd read it again, but neither do I hugely regret having listened to it. Kinda wishy-washy, I know, but that is really the best I can do!
I graduated from a class of 22 students in rural Louisiana... LSU was my Depont...no gothic spires but red tiled roofs all over campus. Would do it again but glad it was in the 80's...I did not get sexiled.
He is Back, Better than EverThis book was a long time coming. Tom Wolfe¿s battle with depression is over. He is back. And this book is his best.Let there be no doubt. I love reading Tom Wolfe¿s books. He is always showing us something we have not quite appreciated. In each book he creates a memorable scene. Who can forget the ¿out came the dress uniforms¿ refrain in The Right Stuff; or how about the Masters of the Universe ramping the bond offering in The Bonfire of the Vanities? And then there is Chapter 4 ¿ the visit to the work-out committee ¿ in A Man in Full, one of the funniest chapters I have ever read.This book includes several. There is the f**k and s**t patois, the shared bathroom in the co-ed dorm, the pre-season basketball scrimmage before 10,000 fans, the football tailgate, the fraternity formal and the frat house mixer. That a 74 year-old writer grasps the intricacies and nuances of the college youth culture is a tribute to his talent. While I would love to know the origin of his amicus towards Lacrosse players, there is no question he spans the chasm of generations to capture the college life.This book may have been a long time coming, but here is one reader who prays Wolfe has one or two more books left in him.
Tom Wolf has the ability to capture the essence of an era and place. In this case, he places us on an elite college campus in the mid-2000's, pre-facebook but rife with the jargon and social issues of the time (gay rights, wall street hubris). He also beautifully describes the social caste system that exists on the campus and the various groups that develop as a result: the untouchable demi-gods of the basketball team, the dysfunctional fraternity culture and the intellectual activists who arise in response to those cultures. Into this mix, he inserts a naive freshman, Charlotte, who is intellectually equal, if not superior, to any of her fellow classmates but socially encumbered by her isolation and self-consciousness. She knows that her family's lack of sophistication and financial wealth places her at a disadvantage. Worse, she allows herself to be influenced by the oppressive peer pressures that cause her to abandon some deep realities within herself. She intersects with the jock culture, the frat system and the intellectuals in ways that are perhaps a bit of a stretch of reality but the intersection makes for a lively story. Throw in a scandal involving a prominent national politician visiting campus and you have an intricate plot that seems to be veering in wildly unconnected directions until, in Wolf's signature plot move, it suddenly comes crashing back into focus and reveals the underlying connections.I felt this was an authentic portrayal of life on campus. Except for some dialogue and available technology, this same story could have taken place anytime from the late 20th century until today. The emotions and characters have always existed wherever you have a critical mass of students wrestling with the dilemmas of adulthood for the first time. Tom Wolfe is a master observer of human emotions and motivations, as well as the day-to-day details of the lives of undergraduates.It is the story of pride vanquished, of innocence lost, of maturity approached and ultimately of compromises accepted. If you are someone with your college years ahead of you, it can offer some lessons on what should remain important. If your college years are behind you (as mine are by many years) some of the scenes will be hauntingly familiar and may elicit memories of times that were happy, lonely, shameful, and even deeply transforming.The book dragged in spots but soon picked up the pace and became engrossing again. Well worth the read.
This is an excellent, albeit slightly too subtle work, from a contemporary master.Many of the major critics of the novel seem to cast aspersions at Wolfe's portrayal of the current collegiate zeitgeist. Not surprisingly, they say, this septuagenerian just doesn't "get" today's youth culture and thus his attempt to capture its nuances falls flat. Ah but if only this were the whole story.Wolfe's novel is both descriptive and evaluative. It may be that on the descriptive level he fails (although, as a recent gradate of a prestigious liberal arts college I feel eminently qualified to suggest otherwise) and thus finds himself evaluating caricatures and straw men. But even if we grant that his descriptive effort is exaggerated it seems clear that it isn't an abject failure. Yes, it may be the case that Wolfe is evaluating caricatures, but these caricatures, based as they are on legitimate portraits, are still worth evaluating. At times the novel reads as satire but I took the main thesis to be allegorical. To wit, it seems to me that Charlotte Simmons represents that which is noble, good, and pure about the university and as we watch her unraveling, we can see in it the collapse of the modern university and the moral and epistemological edifice that has long supported it. As the academe has been tempted by the siren songs of fame, fortune, politics, and big time sports so has been Charlotte Simmons in her own more plebeian way. Furthermore, we find that the life of the mind, under the guise of neuroscience, has turned on itself as a way of writing the "mind" (and its lofty pursuits: truth, beauty, justice, and the good) out of existence. It should come then, as no surprise, that couched in the latest Churchlandian neuro-philosophy the mind and its pursuits give way, unapologetically, to animal instinct.
I found this story about an innocent small town girl's transition to college life very entertaining. Many of Wolfe's characterizations of college students and descriptions of college life were pretty accurate; although, it was kind of hard to believe how naive Charlotte was about pretty much everything. Even so, I would recommend this book and applaud Tom Wolfe's ability to get in the head of a college girl.
Not the most flattering picture of Duke, but I can definitely picture the different characters and types. Wolfe does a great job of creating a relatively unlikeable and simultaneously pitiable lead character. An uncomfortable read at parts, but that is just a credit to it being written well. I would recommend this book to a limited audience on an individual basis, but would be very interested in finding out what others from the Duke community thought of this book.
I really wanted to enjoy this novel because I've been a big fan of Tom Wolfe's writing for a long time. In fact, "Bonfire of the Vanities" remains one of my favorite books; I worked on Wall Street during the 1980s and he absolutely nailed the air of hubris and self-absorption that pervaded the time and place. Similarly, I found "A Man in Full" to be a really perceptive fictional treatment of life in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Wolfe misses badly with this expose of college life in the new millennium. I had two main problems with this novel. First, while still a keen observer of social interactions, the author's "big picture" insights are hardly bold or new. Basically, Wolfe builds his story around the following observations: (1) college students like to drink and have sex, (2) student bodies are stratified along economic, racial, and class lines, (3) most college athletes aren't particularly good students, and (4) sometimes professors act out of self-interest. Perhaps I'm too familiar with the subject--I teach at a university somewhat similar to the one described in the book--but I suspect that anyone who has ever been to college will not be shocked or entertained by these revelations. My second problem with the world Wolfe creates is that not one of the characters is remotely likeable or even particularly interesting. As other readers have noted, Charlotte is portrayed as naïve to the point of being unbelievable. More fundamentally, though, the way she turns her back on everything and everyone she stands for in the span of a few short months makes her very hard to root for. Most of the others--JoJo, Hoyt, Beverly, Adam--are one-dimensional and come off as mere cartoons. Sadly, after finishing the book, I couldn't think of a single character whose story was compelling enough to redeem the experience of having slogged through almost 700 pages. I'm still a fan of Tom Wolfe, but after this book I won't automatically buy and read his next one.
Naive Charlotte, delighted to escape her hillbilly world on a scholarship to a prestigious private university, sees her ideals collapse when discovering the moronic, privileged world of spoiled rich kids. Enjoyable, but sure to offend some (for many possible reasons). Also possibly annoying are the repetitive, staccato-style, incoherent, rambling thoughts of many clueless and bewildered characters, which makes the book wordy. Clichés? Maybe. But, then again, there's only a thin line between fiction and reality sometimes...
The book indicts American higher education as being shallow, booze-filled, purposeless, and filled with immorality, detailing the corruption of an intelligent, naive girl. The story is well-considered and mature. Its characters were well-developed, and they behaved in internally consistent ways. It's a little like a tragedy. Wolfe stretches all that is normally small into bigger and bigger proportions. The main character experiences a spiritual crisis and is both victim and perpetrator of cultural snobbery, i.e., morality is simply for the little people who fail to understand the complexities that are innate to human nature. She likes the guy she shouldn't. She can't like her intellectual equal. She gets hurt, so on and so forth, but the story isn't as clichéd as I make it sound. It's fleshy and new, interesting.In the end, the novel is multi-layered. It's about higher education, but it's also simply about one girl (I don't say woman, because she isn't one) being startled by the absence of morality at her ivy league school. It's about the brilliance of a star growing dim. She cannot achieve without being constantly admired, so she settles for being liked instead of being good. She lacks moral judgement and courage.Thumbs up from me. If you can stomach the copious amounts of sex, drinking, poor English, disrespect for all things beautiful, and general debauchery, then give it a go. By the way, right now I don't feel like being all political and editorializing about the current lack of educating that goes on in schools but--I shall just say--it's not a baseless indictment.