Full Book Review

Complete book review

Wolf turns'bonfire' on its head In the dizzying go-go years of the 1980s - those years when bondholders could call themselves "Masters of the Universe" - hile Tom Wolfe's first novel, "Bonfire of the Vanities" (1987), gave us a satirical portrayal of New York, his escalating new novel "A Man in Full" gives us an just as amusing portrayal of Atlanta in the 90s, a time when lust began to get into debts, capitalist hybris firstly. It is almost clear from the outset that "A Man in Full" (which will be available in shops on November 9th) is a great, albeit highly skilled jump forward for Wolfe as a novel. His cartoonistic line-up of "Bonfire" - a compilation of bodily and socialics enlivened by a wealth of malignant authors - has been superseded by figures more like genuine, likeable people, and Wolfe's fictional screen has been convincingly extended to cover not only the mighty and the wealthy, but also the impoverished and the upper classes.

Sadly for the readers, Wolfe's swift, often gripping orchestra of several exuberant narratives - crosscut in film to create suspense - comes to a standstill in the last few episodes of this novel, as the Static philospher Epictetus is presented as a raw deuser ex Machina Cumm self-help curu to give this thick, thick novel an sudden, unsatisfactory ending.

Like Wolfe's last novel, this book focuses on an intraracial event that is threatening to be as insurgent as the Rodney King case or the Tawana Brawley case. In" Bonfire" a young male whitey was charged with hurting a young male blacks in a hit-and-run crash; in" A Man in Full" a young male blacks soccer player called Fareek Fanon is charged with having raped the girl of a rich male whitey-businessperson.

Not only does this event give Wolfe plenty of opportunity to satirise race policy in Atlanta (not to speak of the policy of correct politics), it also gives him a practical hub around which he can bring several strands of action into the game. Among these storylines is the tale of a stormy property development company named Charlie Croker, the so-called "King of the Crackers", who rules over a 29,000 acre large orchard and a huge conglomeration of companies, among them Croker Global Foods, like an obscene pre-war mogul.

Today, however, Charlie is in a later mid-life crisis: at 60, he suffers from a poor knees, doubt about his 28-year-old female trophies and high fear of the half a billion dollar he owe to his bankroll. Whereas Charlie has difficulty making a livelihood of several million US Dollar per year (just as Sherman McCoy in "Bonfire" had difficulty to live on 980,000 US Dollar per year), Wolf's other personalities have similar problems with their much more humble livelihood.

Concerning Conrad Hensley, a serious young man working in a Croker storehouse and "colliding" his bizarre live with his manager, he quickly sees his dream of purchasing a condominium for his wife and daughter disappearing on his $14 per hours dole. After spending most of his reporting careers documenting the personal histories of his subject with tens of dozen different social and material detail, Wolfe tends to construct his figures from outside to inside.

On the contrary, a method performer is a handyman who thinks that human beings can be identified by outsiders like cash and clothes, that their behaviour is largely determined by societal contexts and states. So Mr. Wolfe explains which automobiles his figures drive:

"a" silver-grey four-door Lexus sedan", a "rattling old Hyundai" or a hired "black Volvo 960 with calf-by-beige leather upholstery. A low tone in Authentic Blacks again. To sum up: a rich offer of "class traits" and "petits faits wrais ", which Mr. Wolfe sees as the decisive constructions of the person.

In" Bonfire" this idea led to humans who were little more than mere proto-types - the egoistic young upwardly mobile, the scolding demoagogue, the scornful journalist and so on. In" A Man in Full" many of the side actors are funny exponents of a demographical group. There is the mayor's boyfriend, Roger White 2d (or "Roger Too White" as he is called), a flawlessly clad dark attorney who longs for the reverence of both the established white and the mulligans.

There is Fareek Fanon, the soccer superstar, "225 pound posture", who wears a golden necklace around his throat " so clumsy that you could use it to pick an Isuzu pick-up out of a deep pit. "And there are Fanon's accusers, Inman Armholster, the kind of stubborn "fat little Caucasian man who lives only in Georgia.

" However, if these personalities are thoroughly stereotyped, Mr. Wolfe's captains (Charlie Croker, Conrad Hensley and Raymond Peepgass) are more three-dimensional, fully educated people. From her point of views, Mr. Wolfe equips them with frustration, fear and conflict that make them identifiable persons, while at the same times, with their Picarese adventure, he tries to produce a kind of great work of societal reality that he has long propagated as a means (in his view) of catching the spirit of the age of "our savage, weird, incalculable, hog-stomping Barock country" as it moves towards the Millenium.

A Man in Full" certainly wants to give the readers an insight into how businesses are done in metropolitan policy, how property imperials can be based on debts, how alpine men fight for supremacy on the soccer pitch, in the economy and in high life. Mr. Wolfe gives us some iridescent, amusing, disturbing scenes, all depicted in his exclaiming, adrenaline-loaden flicks that take us from a plantage in the middle of Georgia to a jail in Alameda County, California, from a sparkling Atlanta opening to an anesthetic nightshift in a frozen-food-stockhouse.

Mr. Wolfe, in his disputed 1989 manuscript for "the new novel of society", rejected the idea that US living is too "chaotic, piecemeal, accidental, discontinuous" to be caught by modern literature, and the most powerful parts of "A Man in Full" actually leaves a feeling of what it is like to be living in the "billion-foot" age.

However, the hookey, staged end of the book implies that Mr. Wolfe sees the outside as such an aberrant place - such a messy, shattered, random, intermittent place - that he may have an end that has practically nothing to do with what happened before, with a deduction that exposes his figures to a fate that even in the "age of anomalies" that seems so vigorously evoked in this daring but erroneous new novel.

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