22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
The Great American Novel,
This review is from: The Bonfire of the Vanities (Paperback)
Tom Wolfe was once asked if the novel is dead. He replied that it's not quite dead, but it's on life support. He thinks the biggest problem with modern novels is that the novelists don't bother to do adequate research on their subject. How can one write a novel about India, for example, if one has never been to India? In Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe has done the research and has created an exact representation of modern city life in America, complete with politically self-serving DAs, civil rights demagogues, and pompous gold-coast dandies.
Wolfe is obviously a keen observer of detail. This skill combined with his mastery of the reportorial style of writing make for a great novel, and a great expose' of the hustlers and opportunists that use the system for their own self-interest. I think of him as a modern-day Sinclair Lewis, who once said that he never passed judgement one way or another, he just reported what he observed. Since most of us have probably never been in a high-rise apartment on Park Avenue or a housing project in the Bronx, it's interesting to read Wolfe's detailed descriptions down to the type of wallpaper and table centerpieces. All of this works to pull the reader into the scene, the only excess possibly being his proclivity for over-reporting clothing styles. Wolfe shows his love of clothing by using esoteric terms that probably have no meaning to the average reader.
Wolfe's scenes are so realistic the reader can imagine himself being in the action. I felt Sherman's fear in the Bronx jail cell. I felt his shame when lying to his wife about his relationship with Maria. The characters and dialog are so real, even though the reader may not live in that social milieu he can identify with the situation. The action moves at a rapid pace. Wolfe doesn't get bogged down with excessive narrative. He lets the characters speak for themselves--truly the mark of a great novelist.
I love the way Wolfe has the Brits comment on Americans. It's refreshing to see ourselves from another perspective. How funny it is to hear Peter Fallow complain about our "ridiculous country" and our lack of social graces, all the while sponging off of rich Americans at every opportunity.
This book is timeless. I read it for the second time recently and found it as enjoyable as the first. At the end I felt myself wishing for several more chapters. Bonfire of the Vanities should always stand as one of the best examples of American literature by one of our greatest writers.