A good friend recently commented that Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was the best novel written in the last half of the 20th Century. Wow! Certainly the good thing about loving books is that opinions are all wonderfully subjective. Of course, I loved Bonfire, it was on everyone’s lips and the movie was fabulous but as usual, never quite as good as the book!
Another friend glanced at my bookshelf and saw I am Charlotte Simmons, another Tom Wolfe novel, but one that never received the acclaim of Bonfire. It is all in the eye of the beholder but I think Charlotte is every bit as good a read.
Arriving on the scene at a prestigious university (many think it is Duke) , comes Charlotte Simmons, poor, devout, strict, proud and beautiful. She is straight from an uneducated but loving family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. From the moment Charlotte and her folks arrive in their less than fashionable pick-up she is confronted with the swells from the well-to-do. Charlotte is not only beautiful, she is also brilliant and both of these attributes are immediately perplexing and yes threatening to her new classmates. As an incentive for you to enjoy this great book I will leave to your imagination further details of this unfolding story.
Tom Wolfe’s research into college life is impeccable and the hard work is infused into the storytelling. He has placed every character you could possibly imagine at this prestigious campus. You will grow to love and cheer Charlotte Simmons and hope for only the worst for her detractors. If you have a daughter of college age you will bite your nails and briefly consider a commuter campus! Do not overlook I Am Charlotte Simmons.
Tom Wolfe is from Virginia and now lives in New York City. There was another southern novelist, this one from North Carolina, named Thomas Wolfe. Thomas Wolfe , who died at thirty-eight in 1938, was not related to Tom Wolfe, but he wrote two great books about coming of age. The first, Look Homeward Angel, was followed by Of Time and the River.
Whereas my friend considers Tom Wolfe the best novelist of the late 20th century none other than William Faulkner described Thomas Wolfe as the best of the early 20th century. Both of Thomas Wolfe’s books are worth every reading moment. Look Homeward Angel is by far the better known and is considered an autobiographical novel. Of Time and the River is a sequel and is every bit as captivating although a bit more patience is required.
If you have read any of these Tom Wolf and Thomas Wolfe novels I would enjoy you sharing your impressions.