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.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.18(d)|
About the Author
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
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.
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
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.
HOW’M I SPOSE A LOVE HER,
CATCH HER MACKIN’ WITH THE BROTHERS?
— 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.
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
— 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.
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
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 —
RAM YO’ BOOTY!
— 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.
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
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!”
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
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.
“TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF!”
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.
RAM YO’ BOOTY! RAM YO’ BOOTY!
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!
GONNA SOCK IT TO MY BABY!
LIKE A ROCKET, DON’T MEAN MAYBE!
— Suddenly a new rap song was pounding from the Camaro —
GIRL, CAN’T KNOCK IT, SAY BE LIMBO!
HEY! YO! BIMBO! YOU UNLOCK IT!
GONNA TAKE IT OUT MY POCKET!
AN’ THEN I’M GONNA COCK IT IN —
CHOC-OLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
CHOC-OLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
CHOC-OLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
CHOC-OLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
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.
CHOCOLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
CHOCOLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
CHOCOLATE MECCA! UNNHHH!
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.
What People are Saying About This
It is a masterpiece-a really rich novel.
'The book isn't anti-Atlanta, and it's not pro-Atlanta, just as Bonfire of the Vanities wasn't anti-New York or pro-New York. . . .What I've always been swept up in is the great journey of journalism, of discovery, what I call the objectivity of egotism. It's always been more important to me to discover something new in what I'm writing about and put it into brilliant prose than to make any political point on earth.'
Interviewed in The New York Times, November 11, 1998
This book is a mockery of those who take the wrong things seriously (Mary Ann Byrnes is president and CEO, Corsair Communications).
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
Didn't ring true -- strange to see how an older generation viewed a younger. And an unenlightening view, at that.
Excellent read. Good book, very droll & entertaining. Deals with racial issues like Bonfire does, but it's not as dark.
A gallery of unfunny grotesques. Dickens without the humour or the social penetration. The culminating story of the guy converting to Stoicism on chance reading of a book and then converting the business man is simply ridiculous. And the importance of a (perjurous) character reference for the raping football star is beyond ridiculous. And what about this strange physiology of Croker flexing his back muscles to flaunt his masculinity? Wolfe should have stuck to journalism at which he was a creative original.
Not the best from Wolfe, but certainly an entertaining read.
I guess we're all entitled to a clunker. But look on the good side, Mr. Wolfe, there's nowhere to go but up from here.
I particularly enjoyed the theme of stoicism used effectively by Wolfe. Once again Wolfe creates believable characters straight out of today's headlines. As a Dickens aficianado I see the resemblance and that, I believe, is part of what Wolfe was aiming for. He succeeds in blending his strong characterization with themes that are both topical and timeless in a narrative that is both rich and readable.
The discussions of the Stoics are interesting and Wolfe has occasional flashes of insight on the racial politics of Atlanta. However, this book signals his growing distance from the ebb and flow of modern culture and basically makes him look like an old fuddy-duddy. In his efforts to distance himself from certain subcultures that appear in the book (notably black American street culture), Wolfe's attempts at haughty clinical descriptions instead read like an old man who doesn't really understand what he's talking about. This book is clearly intended to be a satire like his older works, but you can't satirize something you don't understand. Unfortunately, Wolfe is too out of touch to realize that he doesn't understand, which is perhaps the Greatest Sin.
I fond this as compelling reading as I did his Bonfire of the Vanities (read 3 July 2004). The accounts of Conrad Hensley's effot to get his car were frustrating and I had to remind myself it was fiction, so fiercely did Wolfe make me empathize with Conrad. The jail scenes were also difficult reading. But the other parts of the book were full of fascination, and the denouement while a surprise I found satisfying. Hard to accept that Charlie Croker could be taken with Epictetus, but who can say? He is Wolfe's creation.
One of those books that's all over the place without regard of a tight cohesive plot. Wolfe's urban characters are caricatures of reality.
A Man in Full is somewhat forced and puerile. As always, nobody knows better than Wolfe the brand names and price tags of all our gee whiz toys. In Wolfe's world, we are what we own, eat, wear, drive, and shoot, after a heavy day of trading on the commodity-identity exchange. Wolfe tells us in his pumped up prose style that the pram is British Silver Cross, the furniture is Hepplewhite, the yacht is Hatteras, and the private plane, taken to a condo in Vail, is a Gulfstream 5 with Sky-Watch radar that costs $40 million. What Wolfe is best at is tapping into our fear of losing the farm (there's a literal farm at risk in A Man in Full). He plumbs the depth of our night-sweat terrors that all our charm and credit will run out, that the banks and other savage tribes are out there waiting to pounce if we under-develop, or over-extend, or park our Lexus in the wrong neighborhood. Wolfe's still got a Dickensian talent for funny names (a law firm named Tripp, Snayer & Billings; a character named Raymond Peepgass), but he's become superficial and unconvincing as he thumbs his nose at modern art and modern architecture, at black hustlers and white kneejerkers, at multiculturalists, radical feminists, rock and roll music ("Pus Casserole and the Child Abusers"), gay pride ("lesbians wearing paratrooper boots"), and AIDS Benefits:"Lets Rap for Clap" "Let's Riff for Syph" "Let's Go Hug a Dyin' Bugger" "Let's Pay Our Dues to Pustular Ooze" "Glory Me -- I Got da HIV"That's about as profound as he gets on sexuality. On politics, he's even more succinct -- It's all about "seeing them jump."He's lost the funny, wide-angled lens he employed in The Bonfire of the Vanities. In A Man in Full he's superficial -- an elitist Andy Warhol.
Although A Man in Full is more deeply flawed than its brilliant predecessor (The Bonfire of the Vanities) it is still an exceptionally entertaining and perceptive work. Wolfe has no contemporary equals in his chronicling of men and maleness; he is the Tolstoy of Testosterone. A Man in Full traces the converging paths of a bombastic Atlanta property developer, a penniless-but-honorable manual laborer, and a prominent black lawyer as all struggle with the simple question: what does it mean to be a man?Tremendous stuff.
I think of Tom Wolfe's novels as 60% literature and 40%journalism. The tragic humour of the complexity of modern life is v.good - millionaire Charlie's alarms stop him eating in his own kitchen and Conrad losing his way in the administrative time and money traps of the poor.
This hereya fellas got quite the way with words - he plays with them like a street magician plays with coins.
Excellent read. Highly recommended.
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!