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A Man in Full [Paperback]

Tom Wolfe
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (851 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 30 2001
The setting is Atlanta, Georgia — a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily politicians. The protagonist is Charles Croker, once a college football star, now a late-middle-aged Atlanta conglomerate king whose outsize ego has at last hit up against reality. Charlie has a 29,000 acre quail-shooting plantation, a young and demanding second wife, and a half-empty office complex with a staggering load of debt.

Meanwhile, Conrad Hensley, idealistic young father of two, is laid off from his job at the Croker Global Foods warehouse near Oakland and finds himself spiraling into the lower depths of the American legal system.

And back in Atlanta, when star Georgia Tech running back Fareek “the Canon” Fanon, a homegrown product of the city’s slums, is accused of date-raping the daughter of a pillar of the white establishment, upscale black lawyer Roger White II is asked to represent Fanon and help keep the city’s delicate racial balance from blowing sky-high.

Networks of illegal Asian immigrants crisscrossing the continent, daily life behind bars, shady real estate syndicates — Wolfe shows us contemporary America with all the verve, wit, and insight that have made him our most admired novelist. Charlie Croker’s deliverance from his tribulations provides an unforgettable denouement to the most widely awaited, hilarious and telling novel America has seen in ages — Tom Wolfe’s most outstanding achievement to date.

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Ever since he published his classic 1972 essay "Why They Aren't Writing the Great American Novel Anymore," Tom Wolfe has made his fictional preferences loud and clear. For New Journalism's poster boy, minimalism is a wash, not to mention a failure of nerve. The real mission of the American writer is to produce fat novels of social observation--the sort of thing Balzac would be dishing up if he had made it into the Viagra era. Wolfe's manifesto would have had a hubristic ring if he hadn't actually delivered the goods in 1987 with The Bonfire of the Vanities. Now, more than a decade later, he's back with a second novel. Has the Man in White lived up to his own mission?

On many counts, the answer would have to be yes. Like its predecessor, A Man in Full is a big-canvas work, in which a multitude of characters seems to be ascending or (rapidly) descending the greasy pole of social life: "In an era like this one," a character reminds us, "the twentieth century's fin de siècle, position was everything, and it was the hardest thing to get." Wolfe has changed terrain on us, to be sure. Instead of New York, the focus here is Atlanta, Georgia, where the struggle for turf and power is at least slightly patinated with Deep South gentility. The plot revolves around Charlie Croker, an egomaniacal good ol' boy with a crumbling real-estate empire on his hands. But Wolfe is no less attentive to a pair of supporting players: a downwardly mobile family man, Conrad Hensley, and Roger White II, an African American attorney at a white-shoe firm. What ultimately causes these subplots to converge--and threatens to ignite a racial firestorm in Atlanta--is the alleged rape of a society deb by Georgia Tech football star Fareek "The Cannon" Fanon.

Of course, a detailed plot summary would be about as long as your average minimalist novel. Suffice it to say that A Man in Full is packed with the sort of splendid set pieces we've come to expect from Wolfe. A quail hunt on Charlie's 29,000-acre plantation, a stuffed-shirt evening at the symphony, a politically loaded press conference--the author assembles these scenes with contagious delight. The book is also very, very funny. The law firms, like upper-crust powerhouse Fogg Nackers Rendering & Lean, are straight out of Dickens, and Wolfe brings even his minor characters, like professional hick Opey McCorkle, to vivid life:

In true Opey McCorkle fashion he had turned up for dinner wearing a plaid shirt, a plaid necktie, red felt suspenders, and a big old leather belt that went around his potbelly like something could hitch up a mule with, but for now he had cut off his usual torrent of orotund rhetoric mixed with Baker Countyisms.
Readers in search of a kinder, gentler Wolfe may well be disappointed. Retaining the satirist's (necessary) superiority to his subject, he tends to lose his edge precisely when he's trying to move us. Still, when it comes to maximalist portraiture of the American scene--and to sheer, sentence-by-sentence amusement--1998 looks to be the year of the Wolfe, indeed. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

However the National Book Award judges managed to get hold of Wolfe's much-delayed second novel in time to give it their nod as an NBA finalist, they were quite right to do so. It's a dazzling performance, offering a panoramic vision of America at the end of the 20th century that ranges with deceptive ease over our economic, political and racial hang-ups and at the same time maintains a brisk narrative pace that makes the huge book seem only a quarter of its real length. Balzac had the same gift. The "man in full" of the title (the phrase comes from an old song) is Charlie Croker, a good-ole-boy real-estate developer in Atlanta whose sprawling South Georgia plantation, massive mansion in the best part of town, half-empty skyscraper tower named after himself, horde of servants, fleet of jets and free-spending trophy second wife have left him terribly vulnerable to bankers deciding the party's over. As a former football star, however, the suggestion is put to him that there is something he can do to ease his situation. A black Georgia Tech player clearly headed for greatness may have raped the daughter of one of Charlie's old business buddies. If Charlie can help the city's ambitious black mayor maintain calm, the bank just might be persuaded to ease up on him. Three thousand miles away in California, Conrad Hensley, an idealistic young worker at a warehouse run by one of Charlie's subsidiary companies, fired in an offhand downsizing designed to placate the bank, runs afoul of the law in a farcical parking hassle and is thrown in jail. There, in fear of his life, Conrad absorbs Stoic philosophy from a book his wife has sent him, and, aided by a timely earthquake (sent by Zeus?), begins to turn his life around until the day, in exile in Atlanta, he encounters Charlie. These parallel plot lines, examining with microscopic precision the obsessions, preoccupations, habits and lingo of life at the top and bottom of American society, are both compelling in themselves and resonant with a sense of the vast mystery and comedy of contemporary life in this amazing country. Wolfe is as adept at scenes painted with high satirical glee (Charlie on a quail hunt, or introducing shrinking business guests to an all-out stud performance by a prize racehorse) as he is with horror and pity (his picture of life for Conrad in his California jail is almost unbearably intense). Despite the very occasional longeurs (readers learns more Atlanta geography than they may care to) and writerly tics (Wolfe still can't resist onomatopoetic outbursts), the novel is a major advance on The Bonfire of the Vanities in its range, power and compassion, while retaining all of that book's breathless contemporaneity and readability. 1.2 million firt printing; simultanneous audio from BDD.(Nov 6).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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FOR A WHILE THE FREAKNIC TRAFFIC INCHED UP PIEDMONT...inched up Piedmont...inched up Piedmont...inched up as far as Tenth Street...and then inched up the slope beyond Tenth Street...inched up as far as Fifteenth Street... whereupon it came to a complete, utter, hopeless, bogged-down glue-trap halt, both ways, northbound, southbound, going and coming, across all four lanes. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Work of Satire Dec 16 2007
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Charles (Charlie) Croker a middle-aged prominent Atlanta businessman finds his life turned up-side down when his ego brings him to a staggering debt load and to the brink of bankruptcy. Charlie is faced with laying off some workers at his food business to free up cash and buy some time. One victim is young Conrad Hensley who later becomes Charlie's therapist. His bankers smell blood, Raymond Peepgass has even secretly put together a syndicate to take over Crocker's office building at a cut rate.

Meanwhile Georgia star running back Fanon Fareek is accused of date raping the daughter of one of Charlie's society cronies, a pillar of the white establishment. Upscale black lawyer Roger White is asked to represent Fanon and doing so offers Charlie a deal that would get the bank off his back, it would mean speaking in favour of Fareek at a press conference.

With the press conference looming Charlie must decide whether to go along with White's plan by praising Fareek and save his empire or risk losing everything and possibly causing a riot in Atlanta.

The author narrates in this novel a myriad of details and social observations. Wolfe exposes pretension, hypocrisy, malice, greed and vices on top of the dynamism of contemporary life. This novel is a work of satire, utterly dark and brutal with moments of humour and complex emotions. I was immediately grabbed by the fabulous characters Wolfe introduced and the plot revolving around them, I could hardly put the book down.
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3.0 out of 5 stars View of Real Life Jan. 4 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What I loved most about this book was Wolfe's characterization of Charlie Croker, a man I meet over and over again in real life. He is a true southerner, rich and powerful and ignorant of the more "delicate" issues of life, like the feelings of those who work for him. He thinks of himself as democratic, but instead he is patronizing. That Charlie gets his comeuppance is a strong point in the book. Unfortunately, in Wolfe's books there isn't anyone to really LIKE, and therefore, that doesn't put it at the top of the literary heap - in my opinion. I like to be able to identify with at least one of the characters, and this book isn't like that. Still it's a very good, interesting and easy read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An "American" Tale Nov. 16 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Wolfe's tale of the intersecting lives of ambitious men strikes the poignant chord of striving for improvement that is America. No matter what our station in life, most Americans are dreaming of something grander than what they currently possess. We are forever letting go of the bird in the hand for the two that are in the bush. A Man in Full thus is very much like Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby and Gaille's recent (2002) The Law Review, all of which explore the price that Americans pay for ambition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel for the ages June 9 2004
By elwin
Format:Paperback
You might, as you start reading Man in Full, think that it's going to be another bonfire of similar vanities. You might, but you would be wrong. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities, but this book has more heart; it's even better.
The book is mostly set in Atlanta, and Wolfe makes the case that Atlanta has a unique racial situation. Race relations and racial tensions form a major theme in the novel. Wolfe views race from many angles, including views from Atlanta's black elite, wealthy conservative and liberal southern white, and the inside of a California prison.
The characters and characterizations are marvelous. This was one of the strengths of Bonfires and it's a strength of this book too. I don't think Wolfe writes women as well as he writes men, but the men of several different walks of life are as fully fleshed as anything I've ever read. Another fascinating thing about the book is the inside knowledge Wolfe shares. The insider's view of an Atlanta mayoral campaign was truly eye-opening, as was the inside view of a prison.
The book is hard to classify, but the view is often satirical (like Bonfire), and makes fun of the pride, vanity, lusts, and fears of the elites (like Bonfire). However, there is more heart. Some of the heart shows up in Wolfe's compassion for divorced 50-something wives who have been discarded by their social climbing husbands. In Bonfire, the wives, called "X-rays" were subject to the same ridicule as their husbands; not so in this book. Wolfe also shows some compassion for the poor souls in prison, as he illuminates the brutal social structure in his california jail. It's never mawkish; it never plays for sympathy or tears, but the simple facts of prison life are a horror.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Self-conscious classic June 29 2004
Format:Paperback
Both insightful and almost tediously broad. Wolfe's much-hyped novel of 1998 feigns a Stoic pride in our post-Christian world, but doesn't seem to really put the pieces together in a cohesive narrative structure. The characters get jumbled around, the myriad plots cross artificially, but the prose is strangely catchy. Worthwhile if only to see where conservatism ends up without faith.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best March 23 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The book was interesting enough for me to finish it, but it is not one of his best. There are a number of very slow spots in the story and it lacks the spark of some of his other works.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A story that stays with you March 6 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I first read this book three years ago, then just re-read it again this week. I hadn't realized how many vignettes, put firmly into my head in that original reading, have stayed with me all this time. Conrad, humiliated by his wife's attitude toward him, suffers ever-more-increasing rage at the treatment of his car by a tow service; Croker's attempts to impress his guests by showing them a horse-breeding session; Roger White's first meeting with the insolent Fareek; the list goes on and on. The story is not particularly surprising or shocking, but the way Wolfe tells it is the attraction. His descriptions of social dynamics and the characters' emotions are pure genius. And where a lesser writer would have good triumphing over all, you never know who's going to win in a Wolfe novel.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Why the Hurry?
This was a very good read, with colorful characters, and good character development for the most part. But the ending of the book was rushed. It was conventional and pat . . . Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2004 by C Brunner
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Subjects, Great Read
I strongly recommend this book. In addition to providing that Wolfeian insight to modern culture & characters it's funny, warm, amusing, moving. Read more
Published on Dec 31 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublimely captivating satire
Tom Wolfe, as is his trademark style, emanates forth in A Man in Full his caustic wit, biting satire, amazingly diverse characters, superior dialogue, and a highly engrossing... Read more
Published on Dec 12 2003 by Chris Salzer
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect-pitch analysis of the modern moral quandary
This fine, sprawling novel has only cartoonish characters, BUT -- and this is its saving grace -- the plot is so hilariously implausible that it makes you sputter giggling into... Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2003 by Nanx Hedwerp
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable work, especially in audio form
This review refers to the Audio book, masterfully read by David Ogden Stiers.
A MAN IN FULL is a noteworthy work by Tom Wolfe that examines the core of true manliness in the... Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2003 by P. Kingsriter
5.0 out of 5 stars Defining a man in full
What is a man in full?
Tom Wolfe, author of prior books on banking and astronauts takes us into Atlanta to explore what gets to the root of being a man. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2003 by therosen
5.0 out of 5 stars Drive for the deal
I read the hard-cover edition of this book because my professor at a prominent real estate school recommended it. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2003 by Shailesh N Humbad
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