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Customer Review

366 of 595 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and unconvincing effort, November 9, 2004
This review is from: I Am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have read and enjoyed a lot of Tom Wolfe's work, especially "Bonfire of the Vanities", and I agree wholeheartedly with his argument that American literature needs to explore more deeply the richness and complexity of our culture (as opposed to navel-gazing). But "I am Charlotte Simmons" certainly isn't that kind of novel. It's overly long and painfully simplistic, and it sounds and feels like an easily shocked old man writing about those AWFUL young people nowadays....which sadly, is pretty much the sum total of it.

To some extent, "Charlotte Simmons" is Mr. Wolfe's sincere attempt to write in the voice of an 18 year old girl (when he himself is a 74 year old man). Certainly this could theoretically be done, but it just does not come off here. Mr. Wolfe just has no grasp on what it's like to be a woman, let alone a teenager in the early 21st century. He gets a lot of the sublte little details wrong -- college freshman who listen to Britney Spears? -- but mostly he just doesn't understand the inner workings of the female mind.

This novel would make more sense set in the 1950s, a period that Tom Wolfe probably knows a whole lot better. The plot is centered around Charlotte losing her virginity, a hopelessly quaint theme for a reminded me of Herman Wouk's "Marjorie Morningstar", with it's old-fashioned concepts of virginity vs. sophistication. (BTW: dear readers, this event doesn't occur until 500 plus pages into the book.) This is just painfully out of touch with the realities of the present day -- most studies show that girls lose their virginity in their mid-teens. The "hooking up" that Mr. Wolfe describes with such horrified fascination is only a shocking phenonema in junior high's standard operating procedure every place else.

He also has some loony, New York sophisticates idea of what life might be like in a small town in Rural Red State USA (Charlotte is from Sparta, North Carolina). Apparently, Mr. Wolfe doesn't realize that even the smallest burg in podunkiest state has television, MTV, movies (like, say "American Pie" or "There's Something about Mary"), fashion/gossip/advice magazines and so on. For better or worse, there is no one anymore who is this naive and unworldly.

I finished reading this with a profound sense of embarassment for the author. There is nothing sadder than seeing someone with the great talent and abilities of Tom Wolfe reduced to writing this kind of hyperbolic twaddle.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2007 1:45:59 PM PST
Stacy says:

Posted on Mar 31, 2007 11:20:54 AM PDT
Library Grrl says:
Oh man. I feel so much better. You took the words out of my head! Every character is such a stereotype, and Charlotte is so stuck up and at the same time clueless, you lose all sympathy for her 1/3 into the book. And being from a tiny rural town myself, I deeply resent how clueless he thinks we are.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2008 5:47:13 PM PST
Sorry to hear these comments from both of you. I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS is dead on. I attended a "Dupont University" in the 1980s, and her experiences were very similar to those that I, as well as many of my dormmates, found myself in. And, no, as the mother of two teenage daughters, girls are NOT losing their virginity in their mid-teens. Believe me, more parents than you know have a handle on their children...

Posted on Mar 25, 2008 4:51:26 PM PDT
M. To says:
If you read carefully, our protagonist was both poor and Church of Christ, which makes her shock of modern youth culture more profound and worthy of a novel.

Posted on Mar 26, 2008 9:03:14 AM PDT
porkchop says:
Is virginity hopelessly quaint?

Posted on Apr 21, 2008 6:08:53 AM PDT
Kim Fanning says:
I'm on page 529 and the only reason I'm finishing it at this point is because I've already invested so much time into it. I agree with everything this reviewer said - these characters are so cliche'd, the dialogue so ridiculous and the plot so contrived, I thought he was going for irony at first. Now I'm mad at myself for wasting so much time when I have five other books, probably far superior to this one waiting on my nightstand.

Posted on Jun 19, 2008 9:43:53 AM PDT
S. Seymour says:
Agree with reviewer's overall assessment. I couldn't finish the book - Tom Wolfe does tend to go on. I guess editors don't sharpen their knives as much for the fabulously successful. Sometimes they should. Was very disappointed in this one.

Posted on Jun 24, 2008 11:00:33 AM PDT
Ned K. Wynn says:
Thanks to all of you, these reviews and comments are so useful. The last book of Mr. Wolfe's that I read - A Man In Full - I did not like. I believe that he is - unfortunately - on the downside of it all. It doesn't improve from here. I know because I'm just over the crest myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 28, 2008 9:35:41 AM PDT
Shandel says:
I thought this review was dead on. We are in the 21st century and I can't imagine T. Wolfe imagining the life of a teen age girl. Preporsterous story line-too outdated
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