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Tom Wolfe

15 May 2018

As many visitors to TPV already know, author Tom Wolfe has died.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Tom Wolfe, the best-selling alchemist of fiction and nonfiction who wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and countless other novels and works of journalism, died of pneumonia in a New York hospital Monday, said his longtime agent Lynn Nesbit. He was 88 years old.

Mr. Wolfe was a creator of New Journalism, a bracing watershed in immersive reporting and visceral writing that removed the authorial distance and plunged readers into situations such as the early years of America’s space program.

In “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” he cast a scorching lens on the mores of New York City’s philanthropists during the flush years of the 1980s. A number of years later, his novel “A Man in Full” examined race relations and swashbuckling property developers in the South.

Mr. Wolfe’s scalding humor and creative language introduced into the lexicon expressions such as “Radical Chic” (when describing Leonard Bernstein mingling with activists in his Manhattan apartment) and “social x-ray” (a term for the Upper East Side hostesses whose anorexic frames masked social ambitions executed with Samson-level strength.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here are a few quotes. Some are from Wolfe himself, others are statements his characters have made in his books.

I do novels a bit backward. I look for a situation, a milieu first, and then I wait to see who walks into it.

. . . .

I went to see the Beatles last month… And I heard 20,000 girls screaming together at the Beatles… and I couldn’t hear what they were screaming, either… But you don’t have to… They’re screaming Me! Me! Me! Me!… I’m Me!… That’s the cry of the ego, and that’s the cry of this rally!… Me! Me! Me! Me!… And that’s why wars get fought… ego… because enough people want to scream Pay attention to Me… Yep, you’re playing their game.

. . . .

I didn’t know what in the hell it was all about. Sometimes he spoke cryptically, in aphorisms. I told him I had heard he didn’t intend to do any more writing. Why? I said.

“I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph,” he said.

. . . .

Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.

. . . .

He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.

. . . .

Everything was becoming allegorical, understood by the group mind, and especially this: “You’re either on the bus … or off the bus.”

. . . .

Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.

. . . .

My entire career, in fiction or nonfiction, I have reported and written about people who are not like me.

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2 Comments to “Tom Wolfe”

  1. The best American writer of the last 50 years.

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